EXPERTS’ CORNER: Malaria immune response may do more harm than good

By Jim Fessenden and Bryan Goodchild

UMass Medical School Communications

August 16, 2011

UMMS scientists, including Katherine A. Fitzgerald, PhD, associate professor of medicine, set out to find what was triggering the innate immune response to malaria and what effect that response was having on the host cells. What they found is that the presence of malaria DNA was causing an innate immune response that contributed to inflammation and fever in the host that are the hallmarks of malaria infection—giving rise to the possibility that the immune system is doing more harm than good.

“Normally interferon works to eradicate viruses from our body,” said Dr. Fitzgerald. “In malaria, it appears that the interferon response produced by the innate immune system might actually be harmful to the host rather than beneficial. It’s not clear yet how or why this occurs, but these findings suggest that immune system recognition of DNA and the corresponding production of interferon may play an important role in the parasite’s pathogenesis.”

Hear Fitzgerald talk about the team’s recent paper, published online by Immunity last week, that offers the first evidence that recognition of parasite DNA by the innate immune system may play a key role in malaria.

Related link on UMassMedNow:

Discovery reveals potential loophole in immune response