The effects of Plasmodium falciparum malaria on immune control of B lymphocytes in Gambian children

Whittle HC, Brown J, Marsh K, Blackman M, Jobe O, Shenton F
Clin Exp Immunol. 1990;80

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Children living in hyperendemic malarious regions have high immunoglobulin levels and an increased frequency of Burkitt's lymphoma. In a study of Gambian children which endeavours to explain these findings we showed that acute P. falciparum malaria caused spontaneous activation and growth of their B lymphocytes in vitro. A high proportion of these cells contained Epstein-Barr nuclear antigen (EBNA). In ancillary experiments aimed at explaining these findings. CD4 helper cells from adult donors were destroyed with monoclonal antibody and complement. This manoeuvre resulted in loss of cytotoxic T cell control of their B lymphocytes when infected with Epstein-Barr virus (EBV). In children with acute malaria, both spontaneous immunoglobulin and antibody production by B cells was increased yet CD4 helper cell control over these cells, as measured by responses to pokeweed mitogen, was found to be intact. Spontaneous and concanavalin A-driven lymphocyte proliferation was depressed. We infer from these findings that in patients with P. falciparum malaria loss of cytotoxic T cell control of the EBV in B cells, possibly due to destruction or dysfunction of a subset of CD4 cells responsible for induction of suppressor/cytotoxic CD8 cells, leads to activation and proliferation of foci of B cells containing EBV. The expanded pool and rapid turnover of these cells may increase chances of malignant transformation leading to the genesis of Burkitt's tumor. Partial loss of suppressor mechanisms coupled with normal CD4 helper/inducer activity may result in high serum levels of immunoglobulin which are characteristic of persons living in malarious regions.