Pathogenesis of Plasmodium berghei ANKA infection in the gerbil (Meriones unguiculatus) as an experimental model for severe malaria

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Background: As the quest to eradicate malaria continues, there remains a need to gain further understanding of the disease, particularly with regard to pathogenesis. This is facilitated, apart from in vitro and clinical studies, mainly via in vivo mouse model studies. However, there are few studies that have used gerbils (Meriones unguiculatus) as animal models. Thus, this study is aimed at characterizing the effects of Plasmodium berghei ANKA (PbA) infection in gerbils, as well as the underlying pathogenesis. Methods: Gerbils, 5-7 weeks old were infected by PbA via intraperitoneal injection of 1 × 106 (0.2 mL) infected red blood cells. Parasitemia, weight gain/loss, hemoglobin concentration, red blood cell count and body temperature changes in both control and infected groups were monitored over a duration of 13 days. RNA was extracted from the brain, spleen and whole blood to assess the immune response to PbA infection. Organs including the brain, spleen, heart, liver, kidneys and lungs were removed aseptically for histopathology. Results: Gerbils were susceptible to PbA infection, showing significant decreases in the hemoglobin concentration, RBC counts, body weights and body temperature, over the course of the infection. There were no neurological signs observed. Both pro-inflammatory (IFNγ and TNF) and anti-inflammatory (IL-10) cytokines were significantly elevated. Splenomegaly and hepatomegaly were also observed. PbA parasitized RBCs were observed in the organs, using routine light microscopy and in situ hybridization. Conclusion: Gerbils may serve as a good model for severe malaria to further understand its pathogenesis.




Junaid, Q. O., Khaw, L. T., Mahmud, R., Ong, K. C., Lau, Y. L., Borade, P. U., … Vythilingam, I. (2017). Pathogenesis of Plasmodium berghei ANKA infection in the gerbil (Meriones unguiculatus) as an experimental model for severe malaria. Parasite, 24.

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