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Platelets are understood to assist host innate immune responses against infection, although direct evidence of this function in any human disease, including malaria, is unknown. Here we characterized platelet-erythrocyte interactions by microscopy and flow cytometry in patients with malaria naturally infected with Plasmodium falciparum, Plasmodium vivax, Plasmodium malariae, or Plasmodium knowlesi Blood samples from 376 participants were collected from malaria-endemic areas of Papua, Indonesia, and Sabah, Malaysia. Platelets were observed binding directly with and killing intraerythrocytic parasites of each of the Plasmodium species studied, particularly mature stages, and was greatest in P vivax patients. Platelets preferentially bound to the infected more than to the uninfected erythrocytes in the bloodstream. Analysis of intraerythrocytic parasites indicated the frequent occurrence of platelet-associated parasite killing, characterized by the intraerythrocytic accumulation of platelet factor-4 and terminal deoxynucleotidyl transferase deoxyuridine triphosphate nick-end labeling of parasite nuclei (PF4+TUNEL+ parasites). These PF4+TUNEL+ parasites were not associated with measures of systemic platelet activation. Importantly, patient platelet counts, infected erythrocyte-platelet complexes, and platelet-associated parasite killing correlated inversely with patient parasite loads. These relationships, taken together with the frequency of platelet-associated parasite killing observed among the different patients and Plasmodium species, suggest that platelets may control the growth of between 5% and 60% of circulating parasites. Platelet-erythrocyte complexes made up a major proportion of the total platelet pool in patients with malaria and may therefore contribute considerably to malarial thrombocytopenia. Parasite killing was demonstrated to be platelet factor-4-mediated in P knowlesi culture. Collectively, our results indicate that platelets directly contribute to innate control of Plasmodium infection in human malaria.

Original publication

DOI

10.1182/blood-2018-05-849307

Type

Journal article

Journal

Blood

Publication Date

20/09/2018

Volume

132

Pages

1332 - 1344