In the past, many doctors and researchers have considered malaria, a parasitic mosquito-borne illness, to be an infection of the blood and liver. As malaria can cause anemia (low red blood cell count) and organ failure, this seems pretty apt. However, a recent exploration into how the infection occurs, and how the body responds, shows a potentially different story. According to Medical XPress, researchers studying antibody response in patients with malaria discovered that the body produced IgA antibodies following infection. Since these antibodies are often created in response to mucous membrane infection, it presents a new understanding of how malaria works – and how it could be treated. Interested in learning more? Take a look at the full study findings in NPJ Vaccines.
To begin, what exactly are IgA antibodies? According to the British Society of Immunology:
Immunoglobulin A (IgA) is the first line of defense in the resistance against infection, via inhibiting bacterial and viral adhesion to epithelial cells and by neutralization of bacterial toxins and virus, both extra- and intracellularly. IgA also eliminates pathogens or antigens via an IgA-mediated excretory pathway where binding to IgA is followed by polyimmunoglobulin receptor-mediated transport of immune complexes.
In short, IgA antibodies help protect the body against foreign invaders and rid the body of pathogens. Researchers already knew that the body created antibodies in response to malaria infection: IgM and IgG antibodies. After finding IgA antibodies, researchers decided to expand their study. Within the more recent study, the researchers sourced blood samples from 54 adult participants. Prior to the study, the participants had been infected with malaria within the lab. Additionally, the researchers sourced blood samples from 47 West African children who had gotten malaria during a malaria vaccination trial. Findings included:
- Adults infected with malaria had higher amounts of IgA antibodies than children. However, 10 of the 47 children (21.3%) also had higher IgA antibodies than their remaining 37 counterparts.
- Doctors believe IgA antibodies develop in earlier stages of infection. However, they cannot say exactly what triggers this to occur.
- In the future, doctors hope to better understand why all 47 children did not have high IgA antibodies. What stopped this from occurring? Is it due to differences between the adult’s and children’s immune systems, or does it have another cause?
Moving forward, researchers hope to investigate whether IgA antibodies could be preventative treatments, stop malaria infection from harming the liver or the blood, or be used in a vaccine. Currently, there are a number of vaccines in development for malaria, which kills over 400k people across the globe every year. Though there is a vaccine available, researchers continue to explore additional options to improve patient outcomes.