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 ...

Meal times may be key to managing malaria

March 9, 2018
Malaria infections might be brought under control by managing the eating habits of infected people or animals, according to a new study.

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. 

Malaria Cell Atlas launched: Parasite development mapped in unprecedented detail

March 27, 2018
New single-cell technology has allowed scientists to study malaria parasites at the highest resolution to date. By investigating the genes in individual malaria parasites, scientists from the Wellcome Sanger Institute are ...

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

Pre-clinical success for a universal flu vaccine offers hope for third generation approach

September 21, 2018
Researchers from the University of Oxford's Department of Zoology have demonstrated pre-clinical success for a universal flu vaccine in a new paper published in Nature Communications.

A new approach to developing a vaccine against vivax malaria

September 21, 2018
A novel study reports an innovative approach for developing a vaccine against Plasmodium vivax, the most prevalent human malaria parasite outside sub-Saharan Africa. The study led by Hernando A. del Portillo and Carmen Fernandez-Becerra, ...

Fighting a deadly parasite: Scientists devise a method to store Cryptosporidium, aiding vaccine research efforts

September 21, 2018
In May, just before one of the hottest summers on record, the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention issued a warning about diseases lurking in recreational water facilities like swimming pools and water playgrounds. ...

Scientists make significant discovery in the fight against drug-resistant tuberculosis

September 20, 2018
A team of scientists have identified a naturally occurring antibiotic that may help in the fight against drug-resistant Tuberculosis.

Affordable Care Act: Study finds surprising gaps in HIV care providers' knowledge

September 20, 2018
A new study has revealed surprising gaps in some HIV medical providers' knowledge of the Affordable Care Act, with more than a quarter of providers surveyed unable to say whether their state had expanded Medicaid.

Preventing a dengue outbreak at the 2020 Summer Olympics

September 20, 2018
In 2014, a dengue outbreak unexpectedly occurred in Tokyo. What does that mean for the 2020 summer Olympics and Paralympics being held in the city? Researchers report this week in PLOS Neglected Tropical Diseases that new ...

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.