A new study led by Volker Heussler of the Bernhard Nocht Institute for Tropical Medicine in Hamburg, Germany, has found that the malarial parasite avoids the immune system by killing the liver cell occupied by them.
Till now it was known that after infecting man, malarial parasites head to the liver and then to infect the red blood cells, but it was not known how the parasite avoids the immune system. Heussler's team used a technique called intravital imaging to trace the journey of the parasite from the liver to the red blood cells in mice.
Their study, which is published in the August 4 online edition of the journal Science, could help in the development of drugs designed to halt the parasite before it infects the red blood cells.
Robert Ménard, a Howard Hughes Medical Institute (HHMI) international research scholar, and his postdoctoral fellow, Rogerio Amino, at the Institut Pasteur in Paris have filmed the parasite as it transforms into a structure within the dead liver cells.
"The parasite has evolved this complex structure. The best image to describe it is the Trojan horse, because it both transports the parasites and camouflages them," said Ménard. "The parasite did not evolve this complex system for nothing. It is probably very important that the parasite not travel free in the liver."