BACKGROUND: Malaria is a deadly infectious disease affecting millions of people in tropical and sub-tropical countries. Among the five species of Plasmodium parasites that infect humans, Plasmodium falciparum accounts for the highest morbidity and mortality associated with malaria. Since humans are the only natural hosts for P. falciparum, the lack of convenient animal models has hindered the understanding of disease pathogenesis and prompted the need of testing anti-malarial drugs and vaccines directly in human trials. Humanized mice hosting human cells represent new pre-clinical models for infectious diseases that affect only humans. In this study, the ability of human-immune-system humanized HLA-DR4.RagKO.IL2RγcKO.NOD (DRAG) mice to sustain infection with P. falciparum was explored.
METHODS: Four week-old DRAG mice were infused with HLA-matched human haematopoietic stem cells (HSC) and examined for reconstitution of human liver cells and erythrocytes. Upon challenge with infectious P. falciparum sporozoites (NF54 strain) humanized DRAG mice were examined for liver stage infection, blood stage infection, and transmission to Anopheles stephensi mosquitoes.
RESULTS: Humanized DRAG mice reconstituted human hepatocytes, Kupffer cells, liver endothelial cells, and erythrocytes. Upon intravenous challenge with P. falciparum sporozoites, DRAG mice sustained liver to blood stage infection (average 3-5 parasites/microlitre blood) and allowed transmission to An. stephensi mosquitoes. Infected DRAG mice elicited antibody and cellular responses to the blood stage parasites and self-cured the infection by day 45 post-challenge.
CONCLUSIONS: DRAG mice represent the first human-immune-system humanized mouse model that sustains the complex vertebrate life cycle of P. falciparum without the need of exogenous injection of human hepatocytes/erythrocytes or P. falciparum parasite adaptation. The ability of DRAG mice to elicit specific human immune responses to P. falciparum parasites may help deciphering immune correlates of protection and to identify protective malaria antigens.
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