Human cerebral malaria. A quantitative ultrastructural analysis of parasitized erythrocyte sequestration

Am J Pathol. 1985 Jun;119(3):385-401.


For investigation of the pathogenesis of cerebral malaria, immediate postmortem samples from brain and other tissues of patients dying with Plasmodium falciparum malaria, with (CM) or without (NCM) cerebral malaria, were processed for electron microscopy. Counts of parasitized erythrocytes (PRBCs) in cerebral and other vessels showed that the proportion of PRBCs was higher in CM than in NCM, and also that the proportion of PRBCs was higher in the brain than in other organs examined in both CM and NCM. Cerebral vessels from CM patients were more tightly packed with RBCs than those from NCM patients, but there was no significant difference in the amount or degree of endothelial damage or numbers of vessels with endothelial pseudopodia. Fibrillar (fibrin) deposits were present in a small proportion of vessels, but no thrombosis was present. There was neither acute nor chronic inflammation, and leukocytes were absent within or outside cerebral vessels. There was no immune complex deposition in cerebral vessels. Parasites in cerebral vessels were mainly trophozoites or schizonts. Occasional RBC remnants following parasite release were seen. Some parasites were degenerate, resembling crisis forms. PRBCs adhered to endothelium via surface knobs. It is concluded that there is no evidence for an inflammatory or immune pathogenesis for human cerebral malaria and that the clinical effects probably relate to anoxia and the metabolic activities of the parasites.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Adolescent
  • Adult
  • Brain Diseases / parasitology*
  • Erythrocytes / parasitology*
  • Erythrocytes / ultrastructure
  • Female
  • Heart / parasitology
  • Humans
  • Liver / parasitology
  • Lung / parasitology
  • Malaria / parasitology*
  • Male
  • Plasmodium falciparum / isolation & purification