Researchers characterized heme detoxification protein (HDP), which is encoded in the malaria genome, and demonstrated that it plays a role in protecting the Plasmodium parasite.
During infection large quantities of heme is released. Free heme is extremely damaging, and to protect itself from this toxic onslaught, Plasmodium rapidly converts heme into a crystalline material known as hemozoin.
The scientists showed that HDP is not only capable of rapidly converting heme into its nontoxic counterpart, hemozoin, but it is highly conserved in all the species of the parasite. They also established the trafficking route by which the HDP is transported out of Plasmodium and into the red blood cell before it subsequently returns to the parasite food vacuole where hemozoin is synthesized.
The study included researchers from Virginia Tech, the Washington University School of Medicine, the NIH, and the FDA. The findings are published on April 25 in PLoS Pathogens.