Every year 125 million pregnant women around the world are at risk of becoming infected with the malaria parasite. Catching malaria while pregnant increases the chances of premature birth, slow growth and other health problems for the baby, or even loss of the pregnancy altogether. In fact, a shocking 200,000 infant deaths every year can be blamed on malaria. By studying pregnant mice, researchers have discovered that malaria parasites cause more blood vessels to grow in the developing pup's brain – shown in the micro-CT scan image on the right compared to a pup from an uninfected mother on the left. In turn this causes problems with learning and memory, and leads to depression-like behaviour in the pups. This effect seems to be linked to certain molecules found in the brain, known as the complement signalling pathway, so finding ways to block these rogue signals could lead to life-saving interventions.
Written by Kat Arney
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