Genes for two lethal diseases, thalassemia and sickle cell anemia, are favored by evolution because, in their heterozygous form, they protect against cerebral malaria. Rosette formation, the binding of uninfected red cells (RBCs) to Plasmodium falciparum-infected RBCs (PRBCs), has previously been found to be associated with cerebral malaria, the most important severe manifestation of P falciparum malaria. We show here that thalassemic RBCs and, under certain conditions, even hemoglobin S (HbS)-containing RBCs possess an impaired ability to bind to PRBCs, forming small and weak erythrocyte rosettes compared with rosettes formed by normal RBCs. This decreased rosetting ability is associated with the small size of the thalassemic RBCs and with distortion of the mechanical properties of HbS-containing RBCs. The impairment of rosette formation may hinder the development of cerebral malaria by abatement of sequestration.

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