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Disruption of axonal transport may represent a final common pathway leading to neurological dysfunction in cerebral malaria (CM). Calpains are calcium (Ca2+)-activated cysteine proteases which have been implicated in axonal injury in neurological diseases of various aetiologies. In this study we examined the association between mu- and m-calpain, the specific inhibitor calpastatin, and axonal injury in post mortem brain tissue from patients who died from severe malaria. Calpains were associated with axons labelled for the beta-amyloid precursor protein that detects impaired axonal transport. Elevated levels of calpastatin were rarely observed in injured axons. There were increased numbers of neurones with mu-calpain in the nuclear compartment in severe malaria cases compared with non-neurological controls, and increased numbers of glia with nuclear mu-calpain in CM patients compared with non-CM malaria cases and non-neurological controls. There was marked redistribution of calpastatin in the sequestered Plasmodium falciparum-infected erythrocytes. Responses specific to malaria infection were ascertained following analysis of brain samples from fatal cases with acute axonal injury, HIV encephalitis, and progressive multifocal leucoencephalopathy. Our findings implicate a role for calpains in the modulation of disease progression in CM.

Original publication




Journal article


Neuropathol Appl Neurobiol

Publication Date





179 - 192


AIDS Dementia Complex, Adult, Aged, Axonal Transport, Axons, Calcium-Binding Proteins, Calpain, Endothelium, Vascular, Erythrocytes, Female, Humans, Immunohistochemistry, Leukoencephalopathy, Progressive Multifocal, Malaria, Falciparum, Male, Middle Aged, Neuroglia, Neurons