Friday, July 9, 2010


Adding "antioxidant therapy to traditional antimalarial treatment may prevent long-lasting cognitive impairment in cerebral malaria", based on research from an experimental mouse model.

"Malaria, an infection caused by parasites that invade liver and red blood cells, is transmitted to humans by the female Anopheles mosquito. Malaria is one of the leading infectious diseases worldwide, affecting more than 400 million people and causing more than 2 million deaths each year, mainly among African children."

Cerebral malaria is a "potentially fatal neurologic complication of infection by the most-feared malarial parasite, Plasmodium falciparum." Cerebral malaria is known to cause life-long memory loss, learning impairment, and language and math deficits. Cognitive damage persists even after the malaria illness is cured.

"Cerebral malaria and its molecular mechanisms are under intense study, but the cognitive dysfunction that can persist in survivors in the aftermath of successful treatment has gone unrecognized until recently," says Guy A. Zimmerman M.D., professor and associate chair for research in the University of Utah School of Medicine's Department of Internal Medicine and a contributor to the study. "This complication may impose an enormous social and economic burden because of the number of people at risk for severe malaria worldwide. Our findings demonstrate that, by using experimental models of cerebral malaria in mice, we can explore mechanisms of cognitive damage and also examine potential treatments for reducing or preventing neurologic and cognitive impairment."

Scientists studied "the persistence of cognitive damage in mice with documented cerebral malaria after cure of the acute parasitic disease with chloroquine, an antimalarial therapy". Zimmerman and his colleagues "determined that impairment in memory skills was still present 30 days after the initial malaria infection. Cognitive deficits that persist for years after the episode of cerebral malaria have also been reported in 11 percent to 28 percent of children who survive the infection."

The researchers believe that "it is possible that the mechanisms for persistent cognitive deficits are independent of those that cause neurological injury and death during acute cerebral malaria". They have been able to "demonstrate that oxidative stress is present in the brains of mice infected with cerebral malaria."

Oxidative stress is an imbalance between the production of reactive oxygen-containing molecules. The imbalance "can damage cell structures and the body's ability to detoxify these molecules or repair the resulting damage."

The research group found that "treating mice with a combination of chloroquine" and antioxidant agents "at the first signs of cerebral malaria prevented both inflammatory and vascular changes in the tissues of the brain, as well as the development of persistent cognitive damage." Furthermore, the antioxidants did not diminish the efficacy of the antimalarial.

Although, antioxidants may not treat malaria directly, they may stave off one of the most dreaded results of enduring cerebral malaria.

University of Utah Health Sciences (2010, June 28). Antioxidants may help prevent malaria complicaton that leads to learning impairment. ScienceDaily. Retrieved July 9, 2010, from­ /releases/2010/06/100625131416.htm

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