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The malarial parasite Plasmodium falciparum has acted as a potent selective force on the human genome. The particular virulence of this organism is thought to be due to the adherence of parasitised red blood cells to small vessel endothelium through several receptors, including CD36, thrombospondin and intercellular adhesion molecule 1 (ICAM-1, CD54), and parasite isolates differ in their ability to bind to each. Immunohistochemical studies have implicated ICAM-1 as of potential importance in the pathogenesis of cerebral malaria, leading us to reason that if any single receptor were involved in the development of cerebral malaria, then in view of the high mortality of that complication, natural selection should have produced variants with reduced binding capacity. We therefore sequenced the N-terminal domain of ICAM-1 from a number of Africans and discovered a single mutation present at high frequency. Genotypes at this locus from samples from a case-control study indicated an association of the polymorphism with the severity of clinical malaria such that individuals homozygous for the mutation have increased susceptibility to cerebral malaria with a relative risk of two. These counterintuitive results have implications for the mechanism of malaria pathogenesis, resistance to other infectious agents and transplantation immunology.

Original publication




Journal article


Hum Mol Genet

Publication Date





1357 - 1360


African Continental Ancestry Group, Animals, Case-Control Studies, Causality, Child, Child, Preschool, Erythrocytes, Gene Frequency, Humans, Infant, Intercellular Adhesion Molecule-1, Kenya, Malaria, Cerebral, Plasmodium falciparum, Polymorphism, Genetic