Plasmodium species, the parasitic agents of malaria, invade erythrocytes to reproduce, resulting in erythrocyte loss. However, a greater loss is caused by the elimination of uninfected erythrocytes, sometimes long after infection has been cleared. Using a mouse model, we found that Plasmodium infection induces the generation of anti-self antibodies that bind to the surface of uninfected erythrocytes from infected, but not uninfected, mice. These antibodies recognize phosphatidylserine, which is exposed on the surface of a fraction of uninfected erythrocytes during malaria. We find that phosphatidylserine-exposing erythrocytes are reticulocytes expressing high levels of CD47, a "do-not-eat-me" signal, but the binding of anti-phosphatidylserine antibodies mediates their phagocytosis, contributing to anemia. In human patients with late postmalarial anemia, we found a strong inverse correlation between the levels of anti-phosphatidylserine antibodies and plasma hemoglobin, suggesting a similar role in humans. Inhibition of this pathway may be exploited for treating malarial anemia.
Copyright © 2016 Elsevier Inc. All rights reserved.