Introduction: The angiogenic proteins angiopoietin (Ang)-1, Ang-2 and vascular endothelial growth factor (VEGF) are regulators of endothelial inflammation and integrity. Since platelets store large amounts of Ang-1 and VEGF, measurement of circulation levels of these proteins is sensitive to platelet number, in vivo platelet activation and inadvertent platelet activation during blood processing. We studied plasma Ang-1, Ang-2 and VEGF levels in malaria patients, taking the necessary precautions to avoid ex vivo platelet activation, and related plasma levels to platelet count and the soluble platelet activation markers P-selectin and CXCL7.
Methods: Plasma levels of Ang-1, Ang-2, VEGF, P-selectin and CXCL7 were measured in CTAD plasma, minimizing ex vivo platelet activation, in 27 patients with febrile Plasmodium falciparum malaria at presentation and day 2 and 5 of treatment and in 25 healthy controls.
Results: Levels of Ang-1, Ang-2 and VEGF were higher at day 0 in malaria patients compared to healthy controls. Ang-2 levels, which is a marker of endothelial activation, decreased after start of antimalarial treatment. In contrast, Ang-1 and VEGF plasma levels increased and this corresponded with the increase in platelet number. Soluble P-selectin and CXCL7 levels followed the same trend as Ang-1 and VEGF levels. Plasma levels of these four proteins correlated strongly in malaria patients, but only moderately in controls.
Conclusion: In contrast to previous studies, we found elevated plasma levels of Ang-1 and VEGF in patients with malaria resulting from in vivo platelet activation. Ang-1 release from platelets may be important to dampen the disturbing effects of Ang-2 on the endothelium. Evaluation of plasma levels of these angiogenic proteins requires close adherence to a stringent protocol to minimize ex vivo platelet activation.