Researchers at Virginia Commonwealth University Life Sciences have identified a new mechanism the malaria parasite uses to enter human red blood cells, which could lead to the development of a vaccine cocktail to fight the mosquito-borne disease.
Malaria is transmitted to humans through bites from mosquitoes.
For decades, researchers have known that a molecule called glycophorin B, which is found on the surface of human red blood cells, is important for invasion of the malaria parasite.
However, the specific molecule by which the malaria parasite attaches itself to invade the host was not known until now.
The researchers examined how the malaria parasite, Plasmodium falciparum, interacts with red blood cells using a biochemical test that looks specifically at how the parasite and host bind to each other.
The findings revealed that the EBL-1 molecule is the specific attachment site used by the parasite on glycophorin B.
"We have now identified how the parasite binds to glycophorin B on the red blood cells. Down the road, the EBL-1 molecule could be used as a vaccine target against malaria as part of a multivalent vaccine, or vaccine cocktail," said principal investigator Ghislaine Mayer, Ph.D., assistant professor in the VCU Department of Biology.
The study was published online in the Early Edition of the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences the week of March 9.