Mechanisms of malarial anaemia: potential involvement of the Plasmodium falciparum low molecular weight rhoptry-associated proteins

Acta Trop. 2009 Dec;112(3):295-302. doi: 10.1016/j.actatropica.2009.08.017. Epub 2009 Aug 18.


Plasmodium falciparum malaria is a major cause of morbidity and mortality throughout the tropics. Anaemia is a constant feature of the disease. Pregnant women mostly primigravidae and children below the age of 5 years are the most afflicted. Its pathogenesis is multifactorial and incompletely understood. Among several factors, the destruction of erythrocytes (RBCs) is the most frequently observed cause of severe malarial anaemia and the removal of non-parasitized RBCs (nEs) is thought to be the most important, accounting for approximately 90% of the reduction in haematocrit in acute malaria. Previous studies demonstrated that the tagging of nEs with the parasite antigen RAP-2 (rhoptry-associated protein-2; also designated RSP-2) due to either failed or aborted invasion by merozoites resulted in the destruction of these cells. In this study we further investigated the mechanisms mediating the destruction of nEs in the development of severe malarial anaemia and the possible involvement of RAP-2/RSP-2 and other members of the low molecular weight rhoptry complex (RAP-1: rhoptry-associated protein-1 and RAP-3: rhoptry-associated protein-3). Antibodies to the rhoptry-associated proteins were found to recognise the surface of nEs in a parasitaemia-dependent manner after merozoite release in P. falciparumin vitro cultures. These cells, as well as erythroblasts co-cultured with infected RBCs (IEs), could then be destroyed by either phagocytosis or lysis after complement activation. The ability of anti-rhoptry antibodies to mediate the destruction of RAP-2/RSP-2-tagged erythroblasts in the presence of effector cells was also investigated. Data obtained suggest that mouse monoclonal antibodies to the low molecular weight RAP proteins mediate the death of RAP-2/RSP-2-tagged erythroblasts on interaction with adherent monocytes. The mechanism of cell death is not yet fully known, but seems to involve primarily apoptosis. The above observations suggest that the antibody response against RAP-2/RSP-2 and other members of the complex could trigger the destruction of RAP-2/RSP-2-tagged host cells. Taken together it appears that during severe anaemia a defective bone marrow or dyserythropoiesis possibly due to erythroblast cell death, may overlap with the accelerated destruction of normal erythroid cells, either by opsonisation or complement activation further aggravating the anaemia which may become fatal. These observations could therefore have implications in the design, development and deployment of future therapeutic interventions against malaria.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Anemia / parasitology*
  • Animals
  • Antibodies, Protozoan / immunology
  • Apoptosis
  • Complement Activation
  • Erythrocytes / immunology*
  • Erythrocytes / parasitology
  • Humans
  • Malaria, Falciparum / complications*
  • Mice
  • Opsonin Proteins / immunology
  • Phagocytosis
  • Plasmodium falciparum / pathogenicity*
  • Protozoan Proteins / physiology*
  • Virulence Factors / physiology*


  • Antibodies, Protozoan
  • Opsonin Proteins
  • Protozoan Proteins
  • Virulence Factors
  • rhoptry associated protein, Plasmodium
  • rhoptry-associated antigen-2, Plasmodium