Plasmodium falciparum malaria and invasive bacterial co-infection in young African children: The dysfunctional spleen hypothesis

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Abstract

© 2014 Gómez-Pérez et al. Children with recent or acute malaria episodes are at increased risk of invasive bacterial infections (IBI). However, the exact nature of the malaria-IBI association is still unclear. Young children have an age-related spleen immunologic immaturity, mainly due to the still ongoing development of the marginal zone (MZ) B cell subset. By mounting a rapid antibody response against encapsulated bacteria, these cells are critical for the defence against highly pathogenic microorganisms that do not elicit classical T cell-dependent responses. There is increasing evidence that the anatomy of the spleen becomes disorganized during malaria infection, with complete dissolution of the MZ and apoptosis of MZ B cells. Correspondingly, a reduction in the frequency of the peripheral equivalent of the MZ B cells has been found in malaria endemic areas. A remarkable similarity exists in IBI susceptibility between African children with malaria and hyposplenic or splenectomized patients. However, studies specifically assessing the immune function of the spleen in controlling bacterial infections in young children with malaria are scarce. Here, it is hypothesized that Plasmodium falciparum malaria infection constitutes a detrimental factor in the still immature spleen function of young children, resulting in a factually hyposplenic state during malaria episodes, putting children with malaria at a high risk to develop life-threatening bacterial infections. Studies to confirm or reject this hypothesis are greatly needed, as well as the development of affordable and feasible tools to assess the immune spleen function against encapsulated bacteria in children with malaria.

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Gómez-Pérez, G. P., Van Bruggen, R., Grobusch, M. P., & Dobaño, C. (2014, August 26). Plasmodium falciparum malaria and invasive bacterial co-infection in young African children: The dysfunctional spleen hypothesis. Malaria Journal. BioMed Central Ltd. https://doi.org/10.1186/1475-2875-13-335

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