Molecular aspects of malaria pathogenesis

FEMS Immunol Med Microbiol. 2004 May 1;41(1):9-26. doi: 10.1016/j.femsim.2004.01.010.


Plasmodium falciparum being the most lethal plasmodiae is still a major cause of the disease burden and mortality in malaria endemic areas. Due to the wide spread drug resistance in combination with poor socio-economic situation in the vast majority of the endemic countries, malaria is today a great global challenge. The scientific community is, however, progressing. The 23 Mb genome of P. falciparum has been decoded and publicly available. Data of transcriptional profiling at certain developmental stages have already been generated. More than 50% of P. falciparum genes are transcribed constitutively in all the developmental stages of parasite life cycle. Functional disruption of these genes might have implications for parasite growth and development. Available microarray data indicate that P. falciparum preferentially expresses rif and stevor gene families at gametocyte and sporozoite stages while var genes are predominantly expressed at the erythrocytic stage. Gene regulation mechanisms of the variant gene families in P. falciparum are still not understood though some regulatory elements have been proposed. The occurrence of severe malaria is determined by both parasite and human host factors. Sequestration and antigenic variation are two of the evasion mechanisms utilized by P. falciparum in order to escape the human host defences. Understanding the molecular mechanisms underlying these phenomena is of a major importance and interest in malaria research. Here, we summarize and highlight the recent progress in molecular aspects of severe malaria.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't
  • Review

MeSH terms

  • Animals
  • Antigenic Variation
  • Cell Adhesion Molecules / metabolism
  • Erythrocyte Membrane / parasitology
  • Female
  • Genes, Protozoan
  • Humans
  • Malaria, Falciparum / genetics
  • Malaria, Falciparum / immunology
  • Malaria, Falciparum / parasitology*
  • Malaria, Falciparum / physiopathology*
  • Male
  • Phenotype
  • Plasmodium falciparum / genetics*
  • Plasmodium falciparum / pathogenicity*
  • Pregnancy
  • Pregnancy Complications, Parasitic / parasitology
  • Pregnancy Complications, Parasitic / physiopathology
  • Protozoan Proteins / physiology*
  • Virulence


  • Cell Adhesion Molecules
  • Protozoan Proteins