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Where Have All the Parasites Gone? Modelling Early Malaria Parasite Sequestration Dynamics

Public Library of Science
Publication Date
DOI: 10.1371/journal.pone.0055961
  • Research Article
  • Biology
  • Computational Biology
  • Immunology
  • Immunity
  • Immune Defense
  • Immunity To Infections
  • Immune Response
  • Microbiology
  • Parasitology
  • Quantitative Parasitology
  • Virology
  • Animal Models Of Infection
  • Model Organisms
  • Animal Models
  • Theoretical Biology
  • Zoology
  • Medicine
  • Clinical Research Design
  • Animal Models Of Disease
  • Infectious Diseases
  • Parasitic Diseases
  • Malaria
  • Plasmodium Malariae
  • Tropical Diseases (Non-Neglected)
  • Veterinary Science
  • Veterinary Diseases
  • Veterinary Parasitology
  • Medicine


Traditional approaches to measuring the level of malaria infection involve counting the proportion of parasite-infected red blood cells (iRBC) in circulating blood, known as parasitaemia. However, iRBC can also accumulate within the microvasculature of tissues and organs, a process called sequestration. Thus measurements of parasitemia do not necessarily reflect the total parasite burden (TPB). Recent experimental advances have allowed TPB measurements to be made in humans and experimental models. TPB is particularly important because it is the best current predictor of malaria disease severity and death in humans. Understanding the relationship between freely circulating iRBC versus tissue-sequestered iRBC is an important question in infection dynamics. The recent ability to experimentally measure the dynamics of iRBC in blood and tissue during murine malaria provides an exciting potential window into sequestration, but new modeling approaches are clearly required to understand these interactions. We present a model of malaria dynamics during early infection that incorporates iRBC that both circulate in the blood and sequester in tissue microvasculature. We explore the effect that perturbations to the system have on the ratio of the number of iRBC between these compartments, and consider which changes are most consistent with experimental data from mice. Using this model we predict an increase in the clearance rate of sequestered iRBCs around the time when mild symptoms become apparent, but a more pronounced increase in the rate of sequestration of iRBCs associated with the onset of severe malaria symptoms.

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