Cerebral malaria (CM) affects children and adults, but brain swelling is more severe in children. To investigate features associated with brain swelling in malaria, we performed blood profiling and brain MRI in a cohort of pediatric and adult patients with CM in Rourkela, India, and compared them with an African pediatric CM cohort in Malawi. We determined that higher plasma Plasmodium falciparum histidine rich protein 2 (PfHRP2) levels and elevated var transcripts that encode for binding to endothelial protein C receptor (EPCR) were linked to CM at both sites. Machine learning models trained on the African pediatric cohort could classify brain swelling in Indian children CM cases but had weaker performance for adult classification, due to overall lower parasite var transcript levels in this age group and more severe thrombocytopenia in Rourkela adults. Subgrouping of patients with CM revealed higher parasite biomass linked to severe thrombocytopenia and higher Group A–EPCR var transcripts in mild thrombocytopenia. Overall, these findings provide evidence that higher parasite biomass and a subset of Group A–EPCR binding variants are common features in children and adult CM cases, despite age differences in brain swelling.
Praveen K. Sahu, Fergal J. Duffy, Selasi Dankwa, Maria Vishnyakova, Megharay Majhi, Lukas Pirpamer, Vladimir Vigdorovich, Jabamani Bage, Sameer Maharana, Wilson Mandala, Stephen J. Rogerson, Karl B. Seydel, Terrie E. Taylor, Kami Kim, D. Noah Sather, Akshaya Mohanty, Rashmi R. Mohanty, Anita Mohanty, Rajyabardhan Pattnaik, John D. Aitchison, Angelika Hoffmann, Sanjib Mohanty, Joseph D. Smith, Maria Bernabeu, Samuel C. Wassmer