Hemoglobinopathies have a protective role in malaria that appears to be related to alterations in red blood cell (RBC) properties. Thalassemic RBCs infected with Plasmodium falciparum showed greatly reduced cytoadherence and rosetting properties as well as impaired growth and multiplication. A significant decrease in the levels of falciparum antigens associated with the membrane of infected beta-thalassemic RBCs was observed at trophozoite/schizont stage, but not young ring stage. This reduction was shown when a cytoadherence inhibitory monoclonal antibody, but not a noninhibitory pooled immune serum, was used. These observations suggest that protection against malaria in thalassemia is caused by both reduced parasitemias and altered adherence properties of the infected thalassemic RBCs that promote enhanced clearance of the parasite from the circulation.

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