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Plasmodium-infected erythrocytes lose their normal deformability and become susceptible to splenic filtration. In animal models, this is one mechanism of antimalarial defense. To assess the effect of acute falciparum malaria on splenic filtration, we measured the clearance of heated 51Cr-labeled autologous erythrocytes in 25 patients with acute falciparum malaria and in 10 uninfected controls. Two groups of patients could be distinguished. Sixteen patients had splenomegaly, markedly accelerated clearance of the labeled erythrocytes (clearance half-time, 8.4 +/- 4.4 minutes [mean +/- SD] vs. 62.5 +/- 36.5 minutes in controls; P less than 0.001), and a lower mean hematocrit than did the patients without splenomegaly (P less than 0.001). In the nine patients without splenomegaly, clearance was normal. After institution of antimalarial chemotherapy, however, the clearance in this group accelerated to supernormal rates similar to those in the patients with splenomegaly, but without the development of detectable splenomegaly. Clearance was not significantly altered by treatment in the group with splenomegaly. Six weeks later, normal clearance rates were reestablished in most patients in both groups. We conclude that splenic clearance of labeled erythrocytes is enhanced in patients with malaria if splenomegaly is present and is enhanced only after treatment if splenomegaly is absent. Whether this enhanced splenic function applies to parasite-infected erythrocytes in patients with malaria and has any clinical benefit will require further studies.

Original publication

DOI

10.1056/NEJM198709103171105

Type

Journal article

Journal

N Engl J Med

Publication Date

10/09/1987

Volume

317

Pages

675 - 679

Keywords

Adult, Chromium Radioisotopes, Erythrocytes, Female, Humans, Malaria, Male, Plasmodium falciparum, Spleen, Splenomegaly