Type I Interferon Receptor Variants in Gene Regulatory Regions are Associated with Susceptibility to Cerebral Malaria in Malawi

Am J Trop Med Hyg. 2018 Jun;98(6):1692-1698. doi: 10.4269/ajtmh.17-0887. Epub 2018 Apr 5.


Cerebral malaria (CM) remains an important cause of morbidity and mortality. Risk for developing CM partially depends on host genetic factors, including variants encoded in the type I interferon (IFN) receptor 1 (IFNAR1). Type I IFNs bind to IFNAR1 resulting in increased expression of IFN responsive genes, which modulate innate and adaptive immune responses. To comprehensively study IFNAR1 genetic variant associations in Malawians with CM or uncomplicated malaria, we used a tag single nucleotide polymorphism approach, based on the HapMap Yoruba in Ibadan, Nigeria, population database. We identified three novel (rs914142, rs12626750, and rs1041867) and one previously published (Chr21:34696785 [C > G]) IFNAR1 variants to be associated with CM. Some of these variants are in gene regulatory regions. Chr21:34696785 (C > G) is in a region encoding histone modifications and transcription factor-binding sites, which suggests gene regulatory activity. Rs12626750 is predicted to bind embryonic lethal abnormal vision system-like RNA-binding protein 1, a RNA-binding protein which can increase the type I IFN response. Furthermore, we examined these variants in an expression quantitative trait loci database and found that a protective variant, rs914142, is associated with lower expression of IFNAR1, whereas the CM-associated variant rs12626750 was associated with increased IFNAR1 expression, suggesting that activation of the type I IFN pathway may contribute to pathogenesis of CM. Future functional studies of IFNAR1 variants are now needed to clarify the role of this pathway in severe malarial diseases.

MeSH terms

  • Child
  • Child, Preschool
  • Cohort Studies
  • Female
  • Humans
  • Longitudinal Studies
  • Malaria, Cerebral / genetics*
  • Malaria, Cerebral / parasitology
  • Malawi
  • Male
  • Polymorphism, Single Nucleotide / genetics*
  • Receptor, Interferon alpha-beta / genetics*
  • Regulatory Sequences, Nucleic Acid / genetics*


  • IFNAR1 protein, human
  • Receptor, Interferon alpha-beta