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01.12.2012 | Research | Ausgabe 1/2012 Open Access

Malaria Journal 1/2012

Host immune response in returning travellers infected with malaria

Malaria Journal > Ausgabe 1/2012
Gregory MacMullin, Ronald Mackenzie, Rachel Lau, Julie Khang, Haibo Zhang, Nimerta Rajwans, W Conrad Liles, Dylan R Pillai
Wichtige Hinweise

Electronic supplementary material

The online version of this article (doi:10.​1186/​1475-2875-11-148) contains supplementary material, which is available to authorized users.

Competing interests

The authors declare that they have no competing interests.

Authors’ contributions

GM and RM performed the experiments, carried out the data analysis, and GM wrote the initial draft of the manuscript. RL assisted with sample preparation and helped to coordinate the study. JK preformed the cytokine multiplex assays. NR carried out the Angiopoietin ELISA assays. DRP, HZ, and WCL conceived the study, and participated in its design and coordination. All authors read and approved the final manuscript.



Clinical observations suggest that Canadian-born (CB) travellers are prone to more severe malaria, characterized by higher parasite density in the blood, and severe symptoms, such as cerebral malaria and renal failure, than foreign-born travellers (FB) from areas of malaria endemicity. It was hypothesized that host cytokine and chemokine responses differ significantly in CB versus FB patients returning with malaria, contributing to the courses of severity. A more detailed understanding of the profiles of cytokines, chemokines, and endothelial activation may be useful in developing biomarkers and novel therapeutic approaches for malaria.

Materials and methods

The patient population for the study (n = 186) was comprised of travellers returning to Toronto, Canada between 2007 and 2011. The patient blood samples’ cytokine, chemokine and angiopoietin concentrations were determined using cytokine multiplex assays, and ELISA assays.


Significantly higher plasma cytokine levels of IL-12 (p40) were observed in CB compared to FB travellers, while epidermal growth factor (EGF) was observed to be higher in FB than CB travellers. Older travellers (55 years old or greater) with Plasmodium vivax infections had significantly higher mean cytokine levels for IL-6 and macrophage colony-stimulating factor (M-CSF) than other adults with P. vivax (ages 18–55). Patients with P. vivax infections had significantly higher mean cytokine levels for monocyte chemotactic protein-1 (MCP-1), and M-CSF than patients with Plasmodium falciparum. Angiopoietin 2 (Ang-2) was higher for patients infected with P. falciparum than P. vivax, especially when comparing just the FB groups. IL-12 (p40) was higher in FB patients with P. vivax compared to P. falciparum. Il-12 (p40) was also higher in patients infected with P. vivax than those infected with Plasmodium ovale. For patients travelling to West Africa, IFN-γ and IL-6 was lower than for patients who were in other regions of Africa.


Significantly higher levels of IL-12 (p40) and lower levels of EGF in CB travellers may serve as useful prognostic markers of disease severity and help guide clinical management upon return. IL-6 and M-CSF in older adults and MCP-1, IL-12 (p40) and M-CSF for P. vivax infected patients may also prove useful in understanding age-associated and species-specific host immune responses, as could the species-specific differences in Ang-2. Regional differences in host immune response to malaria infection within the same species may speak to unique strains circulating in parts of West Africa.
Additional file 1: All comparisons made between various subsets of the data look for significant differences. Those italicized in red were significant, all others were not significant. Blanks represent instances where insufficient data was present (~1–5 data points available) to make relevant comparisons. (DOCX 138 KB)
Authors’ original file for figure 1
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