Pathogenesis, clinical features, and neurological outcome of cerebral malaria

Lancet Neurol. 2005 Dec;4(12):827-40. doi: 10.1016/S1474-4422(05)70247-7.


Cerebral malaria is the most severe neurological complication of Plasmodium falciparum malaria. Even though this type of malaria is most common in children living in sub-Saharan Africa, it should be considered in anybody with impaired consciousness that has recently travelled in a malaria-endemic area. Cerebral malaria has few specific features, but there are differences in clinical presentation between African children and non-immune adults. Subsequent neurological impairments are also most common and severe in children. Sequestration of infected erythrocytes within cerebral blood vessels seems to be an essential component of the pathogenesis. However, other factors such as convulsions, acidosis, or hypoglycaemia can impair consciousness. In this review, we describe the clinical features and epidemiology of cerebral malaria. We highlight recent insights provided by ex-vivo work on sequestration and examination of pathological specimens. We also summarise recent studies of persisting neurocognitive impairments in children who survive cerebral malaria and suggest areas for further research.

Publication types

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

MeSH terms

  • Age Factors
  • Animals
  • Brain / diagnostic imaging
  • Brain / parasitology
  • Brain / pathology
  • Cerebral Infarction / parasitology
  • Cerebral Infarction / pathology
  • Erythrocytes / parasitology
  • Erythrocytes / pathology
  • Humans
  • Malaria, Cerebral / epidemiology
  • Malaria, Cerebral / physiopathology*
  • Models, Biological
  • Outcome Assessment, Health Care*
  • Plasmodium falciparum / pathogenicity*
  • Radiography
  • Retina / microbiology
  • Retina / pathology