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ABSTRACT Proinflammatory cytokines are involved in clearance of Plasmodium falciparum, and very high levels of these cytokines have been implicated in the pathogenesis of severe malaria. In order to determine how cytokines vary with disease severity and syndrome, we enrolled Malawian children presenting with cerebral malaria (CM), severe malarial anemia (SMA), and uncomplicated malaria (UCM) and healthy controls. We analyzed serum cytokine concentrations in acute infection and in convalescence. With the exception of interleukin 5 (IL-5), cytokine concentrations were highest in acute CM, followed by SMA, and were only mildly elevated in UCM. Cytokine concentrations had fallen to control levels when remeasured at 1 month of convalescence in all three clinical malaria groups. Ratios of IL-10 to tumor necrosis factor alpha (TNF-α) and of IL-10 to IL-6 followed a similar pattern. Children presenting with acute CM had significantly higher concentrations of TNF-α (P < 0.001), interferon gamma (IFN-γ) (P = 0.0019), IL-2 (P = 0.0004), IL-6 (P < 0.001), IL-8 (P < 0.001), and IL-10 (P < 0.001) in sera than healthy controls. Patients with acute CM had significantly higher concentrations of IL-6 (P < 0.001) and IL-10 (P = 0.0003) than those presenting with acute SMA. Our findings are consistent with the concept that high levels of proinflammatory cytokines, despite high levels of the anti-inflammatory cytokine IL-10, could contribute to the pathogenesis of CM.

Original publication




Journal article


Clinical and Vaccine Immunology


American Society for Microbiology

Publication Date