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Hemoglobin E is very common in parts of Southeast Asia. The possible malaria protective effects of this and other inherited hemoglobin abnormalities prevalent in Thailand were assessed in a mixed erythrocyte invasion assay. In vitro, starting at 1% parasitemia, Plasmodium falciparum preferentially invaded normal (HbAA) compared to abnormal hemoglobin (HbH, AE, EE, HCS, beta-thalassemia E) red cells (HRBCs). The median (range) ratio of parasitization of HRBCs (n = 109) compared to the controls of different major blood groups was 0.40 (0.08, 0.98), less than half that of the normal red cells (NRBCs) compared to their controls 0.88 (0.53, 1.4; P =.001). The median (range) parasitemia in the HRBCs was 2% (0.1%-9%) compared to 5.2% (1.2%-16.3%) in the NRBCs (P =.001). The proportion of the RBC population that is susceptible to malaria parasite invasion can be described by a selectivity index (SI; observed number of multiply invaded RBCs/number predicted). The heterozygote AE cells differed markedly from all the other cells tested with invasion restricted to approximately 25% of the RBCs; the median (range) SI was 3.8 (1-15) compared with 0.75 (0.1-0.9) for EE RBCs (P <.01). Despite their microcytosis, AE cells are functionally relatively normal in contrast to the RBCs from the other hemoglobinopathies studied. These findings suggest that HbAE erythrocytes have an unidentified membrane abnormality that renders the majority of the RBC population relatively resistant to invasion by P falciparum. This would not protect from uncomplicated malaria infections but would prevent the development of heavy parasite burdens and is consistent with the "Haldane" hypothesis of heterozygote protection against severe malaria for hemoglobin E.




Publication Date





1172 - 1176


Faculty of Tropical Medicine, Mahidol University, Bangkok, Thailand.


Erythrocytes, Animals, Humans, Plasmodium falciparum, Parasitemia, Malaria, Falciparum, Genetic Predisposition to Disease, Hemoglobin C, Hemoglobin E, Hemoglobin H, Hemoglobin, Sickle, Erythrocyte Count, Heterozygote, Homozygote, Polymorphism, Genetic, Thailand