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Study Sheds Light on Antimalarial Drug Action

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Antimalarial Drug Action

What Is Malaria?

Malaria is a blood borne disease which is caused by a parasite that is carried by the Anopheles mosquito. This type of parasitic infection is easily treatable and preventable.

There are five types of malaria: Plasmodium vivax (P. vivax), Plasmodium malariae (P. malariae), Plasmodium ovale (P. ovale), Plasmodium falciparum (P. faliparum) and Plasmodium knowlesi (P. knowlesi). Plasmodium vivax (P. vivax) is the milder form of malaria and is not fatal. This type of malaria can be found in most countries worldwide. This parasite lives in the liver and can remain dormant for years. If the patient is not treated, the liver stage may re-activate and cause relapses – malaria attacks – after months, or even years without symptoms. Plasmodium malariae (P. malariae), on the other hand, is the milder form of the disease and is generally not fatal. However this needs to be treated as soon as possible because if untreated this can lead to a lot of health problems. Plasmodium ovale (P. ovale) is also a milder form of malaria which has a liver stage and can remain dormant in the body for years without causing sickness. Plasmodium falciparum (P. faliparum) is the most serious form of malaria while Plasmodium knowlesi (P. knowlesi) may cause malaria in macaques but can also infect humans.

A person becomes infected with malaria through the Anopheles mosquito. First, the female Anopheles mosquito infects the human when it feeds on blood.  Only the female Anopheles mosquito can transmit malaria and it becomes a carrier of malaria when it previously bites a human infected with malaria. Once the female Anopheles mosquito bites the infected human, a small amount of malaria (plasmodium) parasite in the blood is taken. After one week, that mosquito feeds on another human and mixes the plasmodium parasites with the mosquito’s saliva to be injected into another human being. The parasite then enters the red blood cells and can be passed to another person through organ transplant, shared use of needles/syringes, and blood transfusion. A mother can also pass the parasite to her baby during birth, a condition known as congenital malaria.

A malaria-infected person may exhibit various signs and symptoms. The severity of the infection depends on the type of parasite, the individual’s level of immunity and whether the person still has his or her spleen. Early symptoms of malaria may include fever, chills, headache, sweats, tiredness (fatigue), nausea and vomiting. Other common symptoms include dry cough, back pain, muscle ache and enlarged spleen. Rarely there may be impairment of brain function, impairment of spinal cord function, seizures (fits) and loss of consciousness.

The incubation period of P. Falciparum is 9 to 14 days while that of P. Vivax and P. Ovale lasts for 12 to 18 days. P. Malariae has an incubation period of 18 to 40 days.

Study Sheds Light on Antimalarial Drug Action

A recent study has described how the antimalarial drug atovaquone binds to its target protein. The scientists used x-ray crystallography to determine the three-dimensional structure of the protein with the active substance bound. The drug combination atovaquone-proguanil (Malarone®) is a medication used worldwide for the prevention and treatment of malaria. The data and the resulting findings concerning the mode of action of atovaquone could lead to improved treatment schemes against the disease. These researchers from Institute for Biochemistry and Molecular Biology of the Faculty of Medicine and the Centre for Biological Signalling Studies BIOSS at the University of Freiburg published their findings in the journal Nature Communications.

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