Mosquito-transmitted Plasmodium falciparum infection can cause human cerebral malaria (HCM) with high mortality rates. The abundance of infected red blood cells that accumulate in the cerebral vasculature of patients has led to the belief that these brain-sequestered cells solely cause pathogenesis. However, animal models suggest that CD8+ T cells migrate to and accumulate in the brain, directly contributing to experimental cerebral malaria (ECM) mortality. In this issue of the JCI, Riggle et al. explored the brain vasculature from 34 children who died from HCM or other causes and frequently found CD3+ CD8+ T cells in contact with endothelial cells. Further, the authors show that coinfection with HIV enhanced such CD3+ CD8+ T cell luminal distribution. These findings suggest that the mouse model for cerebral malaria may accurately reflect human disease pathology. This study sheds new light on the mechanisms behind blood-brain barrier breakdown in this complicated neurological disease and opens up alternative approaches for treatment.
Laurent Rénia, Georges E.R. Grau, Samuel C. Wassmer