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A small proportion of individuals infected with Plasmodium falciparum develop cerebral malaria. Why it affects some infected individuals but not others is poorly understood. Since tumor necrosis factor (TNF) has been implicated strongly in the pathogenesis of cerebral malaria, here we have compared different parasite isolates for their ability to induce TNF production by human mononuclear cells in vitro. Wild isolates were collected from 34 Gambian children with cerebral malaria and 66 children with uncomplicated malaria fever. Cerebral malaria isolates tended to stimulate more TNF production than mild malaria isolates, but there was considerable overlap between the two groups, and the present data provide only limited support for the hypothesis that cerebral malaria is caused by strains of P. falciparum inducing high levels of TNF. However, it is notable that the amounts of TNF induced by different wild isolates from a single locality differed by over 100-fold. The biological significance of this polymorphism deserves further scrutiny in view of the central role that TNF is believed to play in host defense and in the clinical symptomatology of human malaria.


Journal article


Infection and immunity

Publication Date





1173 - 1175


Department of Paediatrics, John Radcliffe Hospital, Oxford, United Kingdom.


Monocytes, Animals, Humans, Plasmodium falciparum, Malaria, Cerebral, Malaria, Falciparum, Acute Disease, Tumor Necrosis Factor-alpha, Species Specificity, Child, Gambia