We examined the brains of 50 Malawian children who satisfied the clinical definition of cerebral malaria (CM) during life; 37 children had sequestration of infected red blood cells (iRBCs) and no other cause of death, and 13 had a nonmalarial cause of death with no cerebral sequestration. For comparison, 18 patients with coma and no parasitemia were included. We subdivided the 37 CM cases into two groups based on the cerebral microvasculature pathology: iRBC sequestration only (CM1) or sequestration with intravascular and perivascular pathology (CM2). We characterized and quantified the axonal and myelin damage, blood-brain barrier (BBB) disruption, and cellular immune responses and correlated these changes with iRBC sequestration and microvascular pathology. Axonal and myelin damage was associated with ring hemorrhages and vascular thrombosis in the cerebral and cerebellar white matter and brainstem of the CM2 cases. Diffuse axonal and myelin damage were present in CM1 and CM2 cases in areas of prominent iRBC sequestration. Disruption of the BBB was associated with ring hemorrhages and vascular thrombosis in CM2 cases and with sequestration in both CM1 and CM2 groups. Monocytes with phagocytosed hemozoin accumulated within microvessels containing iRBCs in CM2 cases but were not present in the adjacent neuropil. These findings are consistent with a link between iRBC sequestration and intravascular and perivascular pathology in fatal pediatric CM, resulting in myelin damage, axonal injury, and breakdown of the BBB.
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