Cerebral malaria is characterized by cytoadhesion of Plasmodium falciparum–infected red blood cells (Pf-iRBCs) to endothelial cells in the brain, disruption of the blood-brain barrier, and cerebral microhemorrhages. No available antimalarial drugs specifically target the endothelial disruptions underlying this complication, which is responsible for the majority of malaria-associated deaths. Here, we have demonstrated that ruptured Pf-iRBCs induce activation of β-catenin, leading to disruption of inter–endothelial cell junctions in human brain microvascular endothelial cells (HBMECs). Inhibition of β-catenin–induced TCF/LEF transcription in the nucleus of HBMECs prevented the disruption of endothelial junctions, confirming that β-catenin is a key mediator of P. falciparum adverse effects on endothelial integrity. Blockade of the angiotensin II type 1 receptor (AT1) or stimulation of the type 2 receptor (AT2) abrogated Pf-iRBC–induced activation of β-catenin and prevented the disruption of HBMEC monolayers. In a mouse model of cerebral malaria, modulation of angiotensin II receptors produced similar effects, leading to protection against cerebral malaria, reduced cerebral hemorrhages, and increased survival. In contrast, AT2-deficient mice were more susceptible to cerebral malaria. The interrelation of the β-catenin and the angiotensin II signaling pathways opens immediate host-targeted therapeutic possibilities for cerebral malaria and other diseases in which brain endothelial integrity is compromised.


Julio Gallego-Delgado, Upal Basu-Roy, Maureen Ty, Matilde Alique, Cristina Fernandez-Arias, Alexandru Movila, Pollyanna Gomes, Ada Weinstock, Wenyue Xu, Innocent Edagha, Samuel C. Wassmer, Thomas Walther, Marta Ruiz-Ortega, Ana Rodriguez


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