Genetic control of blood infection levels in human malaria: evidence for a complex genetic model.

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  • 1 Institut Francais de Recherche Scientifique pour le Developpement en Cooperation (ORSTOM), Organisation de Coordination pour la Luttre Contre les Endemies en Afrique Centrale, Yaounde, Cameroon.

There is now accumulating evidence for the involvement of genetic factors in the control of immune response against malaria. These arguments come from numerous animal models, from population studies showing associations of red blood cell genetic defects as well as HLA antigens with severe malaria, and from familial studies including a recent segregation analysis, which led to detection of a major gene effect predisposing to high infection levels. The heterogeneity and complexity of this genetic control is one of the main findings of these previous studies, and probably a major cause of the difficulty in developing an effective malaria vaccine. A segregation analysis of blood infection levels is performed here in 44 pedigrees living in the tropical rain forest of southern Cameroon and exposed to high vectorial transmission intensity. The results confirm the existence of complex genetic factors controlling blood infection levels in human malaria but are not consistent with the parent-offspring transmission of a single Mendelian gene. This study also shows the dramatic effect of age on infection levels and its interaction with a putative major gene suggesting that genetic related differences are much more important in children than in adults. Further genetic studies focused on children may help to identify the nature of the genetic factors involved in the expression of human malaria, by means of linkage analyses using both familial information and genetic markers.