Transcriptional analysis identifies potential biomarkers and molecular regulators in acute malaria infection

Life Sci. 2021 Apr 1:270:119158. doi: 10.1016/j.lfs.2021.119158. Epub 2021 Feb 2.


Aims: Malaria is a serious health threat in tropical countries. The causative parasite of Malaria tropica, the severe form, is the protozoan Plasmodium falciparum. In humans, it infects red blood cells, compromising blood flow and tissue perfusion. This study aims to identify potential biomarkers and RNA networks in leukocyte transcriptomes from patients suffering from Malaria tropica.

Materials and methods: We identified differentially regulated mRNAs and microRNAs in peripheral blood leukocytes of healthy donors and Malaria patients. Genes whose expression changes were not attributable to changes in leukocyte composition were used for bioinformatics analysis and network construction. Using a previously published cohort of community-acquired pneumonia (CAP) patients, we established discriminating transcriptomic features versus Malaria. We aimed to establish differences between the patient groups by principal component (PCA) and receiving operator characteristic (ROC) analyses and in silico cell type deconvolution.

Key findings: We found 870 genes that were significantly differentially expressed between healthy donors and Malaria patients. E2F1, BIRC5 and CCNB1 were identified to be primarily responsible for PCA separation of these two groups. We searched for biological function and found that cell cycle processes were strongly activated. By in silico cell type deconvolution, we attribute this to an expansion of γδ T cells. Additional discrimination between CAP and Malaria yielded 445 differentially expressed genes, among which immune proteasome transcripts PSMB8, PSMB9 and PSMB10 were significantly induced in Malaria.

Significance: We identified transcripts from patient leukocytes that differentiate between healthy, Malaria and CAP, and indicate a biological context with potential pathophysiological relevance.

Keywords: Malaria; Pneumonia; Transcriptome; microRNA.

MeSH terms

  • Adult
  • Biomarkers / blood
  • Computational Biology
  • Female
  • Gene Expression / genetics
  • Gene Expression Profiling / methods
  • Humans
  • Malaria / genetics*
  • Malaria / parasitology
  • Male
  • MicroRNAs / blood
  • MicroRNAs / genetics
  • Middle Aged
  • Plasmodium falciparum / genetics
  • Plasmodium falciparum / pathogenicity
  • RNA, Messenger / blood
  • RNA, Messenger / genetics
  • Transcriptome / genetics


  • Biomarkers
  • MicroRNAs
  • RNA, Messenger

Supplementary concepts

  • Acute malaria