The malaria parasite, Plasmodium, retreats and takes refuge inside a liver immediately after entering the bloodstream.

A new research finds that it does this so that it can reproduce, survive, and prepare for an invasion.

In The Lab: Studying Malaria Parasites

Scientists at the Duke University in North Carolina wanted to study the malaria parasite and the role it plays inside the liver.

To do this, they dissected malaria-infected mosquitos and extracted from them hidden parasites. Then, they infected human liver cells with the parasite and used RNA sequencing to examine all the genes, particularly the ones that switch on in infected liver cells.

The Findings

When the parasite enters the bloodstream from the bite of an infected mosquito, it immediately takes refuge inside a liver. Once it is inside, the parasite forces itself into liver cells and tricks them into giving up a protein known as aquaporin-3 or AQP-3.

The parasite then steals the protein and uses it to its own advantage. It will multiply and make thousands of copies of itself within only 2 days. After which, the parasite becomes too strong; it goes back into the bloodstream and starts invading the red blood cells.

"This parasite found a way to manipulate the host's liver cells to make it favorable for this replication event," said Emily Derbyshire, an assistant professor of chemistry at Duke University. "This suggests that maybe we can develop drugs to try to target the host to prevent malaria."

Discovery Could Lead To New Treatments For Malaria

According to the researchers, the findings could lead to the development of new drugs that can help treat malaria in the liver and even before any symptoms appear. One way of doing this, according to the researchers, is to reduce or restrict the parasite's capacity to multiply by using an inhibitor that would disable the protein.

Instead of prevention or fighting off the parasite after it invades the red blood cells, the team at Duke University discovered a way to disrupt the parasite while it is still in the liver.

"This is a great proof-of-principle that you can develop small molecules to fight Plasmodium in the liver, and one could now have a campaign looking specifically for inhibitors against this protein," Derbyshire added.

The study was recently published in the journal PLOS Pathogens.

Species Of Plasmodium

Over hundreds of species of Plasmodium can infect animals, including birds, reptiles, and a variety of mammals. So far, four species of the genus have been known to infect humans in nature.

According to the Global Health Institute at Duke, malaria caused around 700,000 deaths around the world, mostly among children in Africa. The disease is, however, preventable and curable.

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