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Critical Reviews™ in Immunology

Impact factor: 3.698

ISSN Print: 1040-8401
ISSN Online: 2162-6472

Critical Reviews™ in Immunology

DOI: 10.1615/CritRevImmunol.v14.i2.20
pages 131-155

T-Cell Control of Immunity to the Asexual Blood Stages of the Malaria Parasite

Marita Troye-Blomberg
Department of Immunology, Stockholm University, S-106 91 Stockholm, Sweden
Klavs Berzins
Department of Immunology, Stockholm University, S-106 91 Stockholm, Sweden
Peter Perlmann
Department of Immunology, Stockholm University, S-106 91 Stockholm, Sweden


Both antibody-dependent and antibody-independent mechanisms are involved in immune protection against the asexual blood stages of the malaria parasite. It is well established that T cells play a crucial role in both induction and maintenance of this immunity. Of the two T-cell subsets (CD4+, CD8+) carrying α/β T-cell receptors, the CD4+ T cells are of major importance for the development of blood stage immunity in both experimental and human malaria. In mice, CD4+ T cells comprise at least two functionally distinct cell types (TH1, TH2), distinguished on the basis of their lymphokine production. The balance between these subsets is critical for the outcome of an infection. In some rodent malarias, TH1 cells producing IFN-γ and IL-2 are important for controlling infection in its early phases, while TH2 cells, producing i.a. IL-4 and IL-10, together with antibodies, are important for parasite clearance in later phases of infection. Distinct CD4+ T cells of either TH1 or TH2 type also have regulatory functions in human P. falciparum infection. In contrast to the CD4+ T cells, the role of CD8+ T cells in blood stage infection appears to be limited, but suppression of some CD4+ activities has been reported for both experimental and human malaria. As in other infections, peripheral T cells equipped with γ/δ receptors are strongly upregulated in malaria and also respond to parasite antigens in vitro by proliferation and lymphokine production. However, the importance of the γ/δ T cells for protection when compared with pathogenesis is presently unclear. Rapid advances made in recent years in the characterization and cloning of plasmodial antigens eliciting immune protection have made it possible to define some of the antigenic structures involved in T-cell immunity. This, together with an improved understanding of cellular mechanisms, provides some basis for the development of modern malaria vaccines.