The scavenger receptor CD36 plays important roles in malaria, including the sequestration of parasite-infected erythrocytes in microvascular capillaries, control of parasitemia through phagocytic clearance by macrophages, and immunity. Although the role of CD36 in the parasite sequestration and clearance has been extensively studied, how and to what extent CD36 contributes to malaria immunity remains poorly understood. In this study, to determine the role of CD36 in malaria immunity, we assessed the internalization of CD36-adherent and CD36-nonadherent Plasmodium falciparum-infected red blood cells (IRBCs) and production of pro-inflammatory cytokines by DCs, and the ability of DCs to activate NK, and T cells. Human DCs treated with anti-CD36 antibody and CD36 deficient murine DCs internalized lower levels of CD36-adherent IRBCs and produced significantly decreased levels of pro-inflammatory cytokines compared to untreated human DCs and wild type mouse DCs, respectively. Consistent with these results, wild type murine DCs internalized lower levels of CD36-nonadherent IRBCs and produced decreased levels of pro-inflammatory cytokines than wild type DCs treated with CD36-adherent IRBCs. Further, the cytokine production by NK and T cells activated by IRBC-internalized DCs was significantly dependent on CD36. Thus, our results demonstrate that CD36 contributes significantly to the uptake of IRBCs and pro-inflammatory cytokine responses by DCs, and the ability of DCs to activate NK and T cells to produce IFN-γ. Given that DCs respond to malaria parasites very early during infection and influence development of immunity, and that CD36 contributes substantially to the cytokine production by DCs, NK and T cells, our results suggest that CD36 plays an important role in immunity to malaria. Furthermore, since the contribution of CD36 is particularly evident at low doses of infected erythrocytes, the results imply that the effect of CD36 on malaria immunity is imprinted early during infection when parasite load is low.
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