Malaria infections cause several systemic and severe single- or multi-organ pathologies, killing hundreds of thousands of people annually. Considering the existing widespread resistance of malaria parasites to anti-parasitic drugs and their high propensity to develop drug resistance, alternative strategies are required to manage malaria infections. Because malaria is a host immune response– driven disease, one approach is based on gaining a detailed understanding of the molecular and cellular processes that modulate malaria-induced innate and adaptive immune responses. Here, using a mouse cerebral malaria model and small-molecule inhibitors, we demonstrate that inhibiting MEK1/2, the upstream kinases of ERK1/2 signaling, alters multifactorial components of the innate and adaptive immune responses, controls parasitemia, and blocks pathogenesis. Specifically, MEK1/2 inhibitor treatment up-regulated B1 cell expansion, IgM production, phagocytic receptor expression, and phagocytic activity, enhancing parasite clearance by macrophages and neutrophils. Further, the MEK1/2 inhibitor treatment down-regulated pathogenic pro-inflammatory and helper T cell 1 (Th1) responses and up-regulated beneficial anti-inflammatory cytokine responses and Th2 responses. These inhibitor effects resulted in reduced granzyme B expression by T cells, chemokine and intracellular cell adhesion molecule 1 (ICAM-1) expression in the brain, and chemokine receptor expression by both myeloid and T cells. These bimodal effects of the MEK1/2 inhibitor treatment on immune responses contributed to decreased parasite biomass, organ inflammation, and immune cell recruitment, preventing tissue damage and death. In summary, we have identified several previously unrecognized immune regulatory processes through which a MEK1/2 inhibitor approach controls malaria parasitemia and mitigates pathogenic effects on host organs.
All Science Journal Classification (ASJC) codes
- Molecular Biology
- Cell Biology