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Malaria Parasite Targets Liver’s EphA2 Receptor to Launch Successful Infection; New Finding Is “Critically Important Advance” Says Chief of NIAID’s Malaria Cell Biology Section at NIH

Scientists at the Center for Infectious Disease Research (CIDR) in Seattle, Washington recently uncovered a critical piece in the puzzle of how malaria parasites infect their host. The work, published online on November 27, 2015 in Science, reveals the details of how the malaria parasite invades its initial target organ, the liver. The Science article is titled “Malaria Parasites Target the Hepatocyte Receptor EphA2 for Successful Host Infection." Without infection of the liver, the parasites cannot multiply or spread to the blood. Infection of the blood causes illness, spread of the disease, and, ultimately, death. "This discovery is significant because it reveals a vital interaction between the malaria parasite and the person it infects. Before, we knew little about that interaction. The molecular details of our discovery will facilitate the design of new drugs and new vaccines," said Alexis Kaushansky, Ph.D., an Assistant Professor at the CIDR. The discovery was made through collaborative research among the laboratories of Stefan Kappe, Ph.D., Noah Sather, Ph.D., and Alexis Kaushansky, Ph.D. The combination of cross-disciplinary, collaborative research and technological approaches has allowed this type of discovery to be possible. As Louis H. Miller, M.D., Chief of the NIAID’s Malaria Cell Biology Section at the NIH, notes, "The findings on the liver receptor EphA2 for malaria parasite sporozoite invasion of liver cells is a critically important advance and might allow us to devise new strategies to block parasite infection." Dr. Miller was not involved in the reported research. The image shows the structure of the EphA2 protein.

[Press release] [Science abstract]