Neutrophils in malaria: The good, the bad or the ugly?

Parasite Immunol. 2022 Jun;44(6):e12912. doi: 10.1111/pim.12912. Epub 2022 Feb 24.


Neutrophils are the most abundant circulating leukocytes in human peripheral blood. They are often the first cells to respond to an invading pathogen and might therefore play an important role in malaria. Malaria is a globally important disease caused by Plasmodium parasites, responsible for more than 400,000 deaths each year. Most of these deaths are caused by complications, including cerebral malaria, severe malarial anaemia, placental malaria, renal injury, metabolic problems and malaria-associated acute respiratory distress syndrome. Neutrophils contribute in the immune defence against malaria, through clearance of parasites via phagocytosis, production of reactive oxygen species and release of neutrophil extracellular traps (NETs). However, Plasmodium parasites diminish antibacterial functions of neutrophils, making patients more susceptible to other infections. Neutrophils might also be involved in the development of malaria complications, for example via the release of toxic granules and NETs. However, technical pitfalls in the determination of the roles of neutrophils have caused contradicting results. Further investigations need to consider these pitfalls, in order to elucidate the role of neutrophils in malaria complications.

Publication types

  • Review
  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Extracellular Traps*
  • Female
  • Humans
  • Malaria, Cerebral*
  • Neutrophils
  • Placenta
  • Plasmodium*
  • Pregnancy