New understanding of the way chikungunya virus protects mice against malaria could lead to improved patient care

June 25, 2018, Agency for Science, Technology and Research (A*STAR), Singapore
Cryoelectron microscopy reconstruction of Chikungunya virus. From EMDB entry 5577. Credit: Wikipedia

Chikungunya virus (CHIKV) infection may reduce the severity of malaria, according to a discovery by A*STAR scientists, which could lead to the development of new malaria treatments.

Spread by different mosquito species in many tropical countries, the two infections commonly occur in tandem, recent studies have found. Cases of CHIKV have risen significantly in the last decade and co-infection with is frequently misdiagnosed as malaria only.

As diagnosis methods improve, a better understanding of the effects of co-infection will help treatment options. Previous research by Laurent Rénia of the A*STAR Singapore Immunology Network (SIgN) has shown that 70-80 per cent of mice infected with the parasite Plasmodium berghei, widely used by scientists as a model of human malaria, die within six to 12 days. 

In a new study, a team led by Rénia and Lisa Ng, also of SIgN, showed similar results for mice infected with P. Berghei, both four days before and after being also infected with CHIKV. However, among another group simultaneously infected with both, close to 75 per cent survived for at least 26 days. 

The researchers found that mice infected with both pathogens had lower levels of P. berghei in their brains and less damage to the than those infected only with the malaria-causing parasite. 

CD8+ T , a type of white blood cell, play important roles in the body's defenses against pathogens including malaria, using various methods to attack and kill infected or . The team showed that levels of CD8+ T cells were lower in the brains of co-infected mice than in those of mice with malaria only, while remaining similar in the spleen. 

Rénia and Ng went on to discover the complex chain of molecular events behind the protective effects of co-infection. Namely CD4+ T cells, which regulate immune responses, secrete a protein called interferon gamma, causing changes in levels of proteins involved in cell signaling and trafficking. This, in turn, reduces migration of CD8+ T cells to the , which, in the case of infection with malaria alone, can cause severe neurological damage. 

This improved understanding of the mechanisms underlying the protective effect of CHIKV on malaria in mouse models could provide the basis for novel human therapies. "Targeting this same pathway to prevent or reduce CD8+ T cell migration to the brain could offer a new way to treat malaria," said Ng.

Explore further: Study explores new strategy to develop a malaria vaccine

More information: Teck‐Hui Teo et al. Co‐infection with Chikungunya virus alters trafficking of pathogenic CD8 + T cells into the brain and prevents Plasmodium ‐induced neuropathology, EMBO Molecular Medicine (2017). DOI: 10.15252/emmm.201707885

Related Stories

Study explores new strategy to develop a malaria vaccine

April 11, 2018
A serum developed by Yale researchers reduces infection from malaria in mice, according to a new study. It works by attacking a protein in the saliva of the mosquitos infected with the malaria parasite rather than the parasite ...

Altered body odor indicates malaria even if microscope doesn't

May 14, 2018
Typhoid Mary may have infected a hundred or more people, but asymptomatic carriers of malaria infect far more people every year. An international team of researchers is working toward a way to identify malaria patients including ...

Existing drugs could treat chikungunya

August 25, 2017
Chikungunya virus (CHIKV) infection could be treated with autoimmune therapies currently used for other conditions, according to research led by A*STAR scientists. 

The immune system of mice is implicated in helping malaria to move from the blood to the brain

May 6, 2016
By studying malaria in mice, three A*STAR researchers have discovered how malaria parasites in the bloodstream can affect the brain, causing a life-threatening condition called cerebral malaria.

Recommended for you

Infants born to obese mothers risk developing liver disease, obesity

November 16, 2018
Infant gut microbes altered by their mother's obesity can cause inflammation and other major changes within the baby, increasing the risk of obesity and non-alcoholic fatty liver disease later in life, according to researchers ...

New study shows NKT cell subsets play a large role in the advancement of NAFLD

November 16, 2018
Since 2015 it has been known that the gut microbiota could have a direct impact on nonalcoholic fatty liver disease (NAFLD), which affects up to 12% of adults and is a leading cause of chronic liver disease. In the November ...

Antibiotic prescribing influenced by team dynamics within hospitals

November 15, 2018
Antibiotic prescribing by doctors is influenced by team dynamics and cultures within hospitals.

Zika may hijack mother-fetus immunity route

November 14, 2018
To cross the placenta, Zika virus may hijack the route by which acquired immunity is transferred from mother to fetus, new research suggests.

New research aims to help improve uptake of hepatitis C testing

November 14, 2018
New research published in Scientific Reports shows persisting fears about HIV infection may impact testing uptake for the hepatitis C Virus (HCV).

Maternally acquired Zika immunity can increase dengue disease severity in mouse pups

November 14, 2018
To say that the immune system is complex is an understatement: an immune response protective in one context can turn deadly over time, as evidenced by numerous epidemiological studies on dengue infection, spanning multiple ...

0 comments

Please sign in to add a comment. Registration is free, and takes less than a minute. Read more

Click here to reset your password.
Sign in to get notified via email when new comments are made.