Background: In Plasmodium falciparum-infected children, the relationships between blood cell histopathology, blood plasma components, development of immunocompetence and disease severity remain poorly understood. Blood from Nigerian children with uncomplicated malaria was analysed to gain insight into these relationships. This investigation presents evidence for circulating neutrophil extracellular traps (NETs) and antinuclear IgG antibodies (ANA). The presence of NETs and ANA to double-stranded DNA along with the cytokine profiles found suggests autoimmune mechanisms that could produce pathogenesis in children, but immunoprotection in adults.
Methods: Peripheral blood smear slides and blood samples obtained from 21 Nigerian children under six years of age, presenting with uncomplicated malaria before and seven days after initiation of sulphadoxine-pyrimethamine (SP) treatment were analysed. The slides were stained with Giemsa and with DAPI. Levels of the pro-inflammatory cytokines IFN-gamma, IL-2, TNF, CRP, and IL-6, select anti-inflammatory cytokines TGF-beta and IL-10, and ANA were determined by immunoassay.
Results: The children exhibited circulating NETs with adherent parasites and erythrocytes, elevated ANA levels, a Th2 dominated cytokine profile, and left-shifted leukocyte differential counts. Nonspecific ANA levels were significant in 86% of the children pretreatment and in 100% of the children seven days after SP treatment, but in only 33% of age-matched control samples collected during the season of low parasite transmission. Levels of ANA specific for dsDNA were significant in 81% of the children both pre-treatment and post treatment.
Conclusion: The results of this investigation suggest that NET formation and ANA to dsDNA may induce pathology in falciparum-infected children, but activate a protective mechanism against falciparum malaria in adults. The significance of in vivo circulating chromatin in NETs and dsDNA ANA as a causative factor in the hyporesponsiveness of CpG oligonucleotide-based malaria vaccines is discussed.