Xanthine oxidase levels and immune dysregulation are independently associated with anemia in Plasmodium falciparum malaria

Marilyn Vasquez, Margaux Sica, Ruth Namazzi, Robert O. Opoka, Julian Sherman, Dibyadyuti Datta, Miquel Duran-Frigola, John M. Ssenkusu, Chandy C. John, Andrea L. Conroy, Ana Rodriguez

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Severe anemia is an important contributor to mortality in children with severe malaria. Anemia in malaria is a multi-factorial complication, since dyserythropoiesis, hemolysis and phagocytic clearance of uninfected red blood cells (RBCs) can contribute to this syndrome. High levels of oxidative stress and immune dysregulation have been proposed to contribute to severe malarial anemia, facilitating the clearance of uninfected RBCs. In a cohort of 552 Ugandan children with severe malaria, we measured the levels of xanthine oxidase (XO), an oxidative enzyme that is elevated in the plasma of malaria patients. The levels of XO in children with severe anemia were significantly higher compared to children with severe malaria not suffering from severe anemia. Levels of XO were inversely associated with RBC hemoglobin (ρ = − 0.25, p < 0.0001), indicating a relation between this enzyme and severe anemia. When compared with the levels of immune complexes and of autoimmune antibodies to phosphatidylserine, factors previously associated with severe anemia in malaria patients, we observed that XO is not associated with them, suggesting that XO is associated with severe anemia through an independent mechanism. XO was associated with prostration, acidosis, jaundice, respiratory distress, and kidney injury, which may reflect a broader relation of this enzyme with severe malaria pathology. Since inhibitors of XO are inexpensive and well-tolerated drugs already approved for use in humans, the validation of XO as a contributor to severe malarial anemia and other malaria complications may open new possibilities for much needed adjunctive therapy in malaria.

Original languageEnglish
Article number14720
JournalScientific Reports
Issue number1
Publication statusPublished - Dec 2023
Externally publishedYes


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