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Experimenta naturae, like the glucose-6-phosphate dehydrogenase deficiency, indicate that malaria parasites are highly susceptible to alterations in the redox equilibrium. This offers a great potential for the development of urgently required novel chemotherapeutic strategies. However, the relationship between the redox status of malarial parasites and that of their host is complex. In this review article we summarise the presently available knowledge on sources and detoxification pathways of reactive oxygen species in malaria parasite-infected red cells, on clinical aspects of redox metabolism and redox-related mechanisms of drug action as well as future prospects for drug development. As delineated below, alterations in redox status contribute to disease manifestation including sequestration, cerebral pathology, anaemia, respiratory distress, and placental malaria. Studying haemoglobinopathies, like thalassemias and sickle cell disease, and other red cell defects that provide protection against malaria allows insights into this fine balance of redox interactions. The host immune response to malaria involves phagocytosis as well as the production of nitric oxide and oxygen radicals that form part of the host defence system and also contribute to the pathology of the disease. Haemoglobin degradation by the malarial parasite produces the redox active by-products, free haem and H(2)O(2), conferring oxidative insult on the host cell. However, the parasite also supplies antioxidant moieties to the host and possesses an efficient enzymatic antioxidant defence system including glutathione- and thioredoxin-dependent proteins. Mechanistic and structural work on these enzymes might provide a basis for targeting the parasite. Indeed, a number of currently used drugs, especially the endoperoxide antimalarials, appear to act by increasing oxidant stress, and novel drugs such as peroxidic compounds and anthroquinones are being developed.

Original publication




Journal article


Int J Parasitol

Publication Date





163 - 189


Animals, Antimalarials, Antioxidants, Erythrocytes, Host-Parasite Interactions, Malaria, Oxidation-Reduction, Oxidative Stress, Plasmodium