BACKGROUND: Sequestration of parasitized red blood cells from the peripheral circulation during an infection with Plasmodium falciparum is caused by an interaction between the parasite protein PfEMP1 and receptors on the surface of host endothelial cells, known as cytoadherence. Several lines of evidence point to a link between the pathology of severe malaria and cytoadherence, therefore blocking adhesion receptors involved in this process could be a good target to inhibit pRBC sequestration and prevent disease. In a malaria endemic setting this is likely to be used as an adjunct therapy by reversing existing cytoadherence. Two well-characterized parasite lines plus three recently derived patient isolates were tested for their cytoadherence to purified receptors (CD36 and ICAM-1) as well as endothelial cells. Monoclonal antibodies against human CD36 and ICAM-1 were used to inhibit and reverse infected erythrocyte binding in static and flow-based adhesion assays.
RESULTS: Anti-ICAM-1 and CD36 monoclonal antibodies were able to inhibit and reverse P. falciparum binding of lab and recently adapted patient isolates in vitro. However, reversal of binding was incomplete and varied in its efficiency between parasite isolates.
CONCLUSIONS: The results show that, as a proof of concept, disturbing existing ligand-receptor interactions is possible and could have potential therapeutic value for severe malaria. The variation seen in the degree of reversing existing binding with different parasite isolates and the incomplete nature of reversal, despite the use of high affinity inhibitors, suggest that anti-adhesion approaches as adjunct therapies for severe malaria may not be effective, and the focus may need to be on inhibitory approaches such as vaccines.