Plasmodium falciparum transmission stages accumulate in the human bone marrow

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Abstract

Transmission of Plasmodium falciparum malaria parasites requires formation and development of gametocytes, yet all but the most mature of these sexual parasite forms are absent from the blood circulation. We performed a systematic organ survey in pediatric cases of fatal malaria to characterize the spatial dynamics of gametocyte development in the human host. Histological studies revealed a niche in the extravascular space of the human bone marrow where gametocytes formed in erythroid precursor cells and underwent development before reentering the circulation. Accumulation of gametocytes in the hematopoietic system of human bone marrow did not rely on cytoadherence to the vasculature as does sequestration of asexual-stage parasites. This suggests a different mechanism for the sequestration of gametocytes that could potentially be exploited to block malaria transmission.

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