Background: The role of intracellular radical oxygen species (ROS) in pathogenesis of cerebral malaria (CM) remains incompletely understood.
Methods and findings: We undertook testing Tempol--a superoxide dismutase (SOD) mimetic and pleiotropic intracellular antioxidant--in cells relevant to malaria pathogenesis in the context of coagulation and inflammation. Tempol was also tested in a murine model of CM induced by Plasmodium berghei Anka infection. Tempol was found to prevent transcription and functional expression of procoagulant tissue factor in endothelial cells (ECs) stimulated by lipopolysaccharide (LPS). This effect was accompanied by inhibition of IL-6, IL-8, and monocyte chemoattractant protein (MCP-1) production. Tempol also attenuated platelet aggregation and human promyelocytic leukemia HL60 cells oxidative burst. In dendritic cells, Tempol inhibited LPS-induced production of TNF-α, IL-6, and IL-12p70, downregulated expression of co-stimulatory molecules, and prevented antigen-dependent lymphocyte proliferation. Notably, Tempol (20 mg/kg) partially increased the survival of mice with CM. Mechanistically, treated mice had lowered plasma levels of MCP-1, suggesting that Tempol downmodulates EC function and vascular inflammation. Tempol also diminished blood brain barrier permeability associated with CM when started at day 4 post infection but not at day 1, suggesting that ROS production is tightly regulated. Other antioxidants-such as α-phenyl N-tertiary-butyl nitrone (PBN; a spin trap), MnTe-2-PyP and MnTBAP (Mn-phorphyrin), Mitoquinone (MitoQ) and Mitotempo (mitochondrial antioxidants), M30 (an iron chelator), and epigallocatechin gallate (EGCG; polyphenol from green tea) did not improve survival. By contrast, these compounds (except PBN) inhibited Plasmodium falciparum growth in culture with different IC50s. Knockout mice for SOD1 or phagocyte nicotinamide adenine dinucleotide phosphate (NADPH) oxidase (gp91(phox-/-)) or mice treated with inhibitors of SOD (diethyldithiocarbamate) or NADPH oxidase (diphenyleneiodonium) did not show protection or exacerbation for CM.
Conclusion: Results with Tempol suggest that intracellular ROS contribute, in part, to CM pathogenesis. Therapeutic targeting of intracellular ROS in CM is discussed.