|Blood forms of the rodent malaria parasite Plasmodium berghei|
Plasmodium berghei is a protozoan parasite that causes malaria in certain rodents. Originally, isolated from thicket rats in Central Africa, P. berghei is one of four Plasmodium species that have been described in African murine rodents, the others being Plasmodium chabaudi, Plasmodium vinckei, and Plasmodium yoelii. Due to its ability to infect rodents and relative ease of genetic engineering, P. berghei is a popular model organism for the study of human malaria.
Like all malaria parasites of mammals, including the four human malaria parasites, P. berghei is transmitted by Anopheles mosquitoes and it infects the liver after being injected into the bloodstream by a bite of an infected female mosquito. After a short period (a few days) of development and multiplication, these parasites leave the liver and invade erythrocytes (red blood cells). The multiplication of the parasite in the blood causes the pathology such as anaemia and damage of essential organs of the host such as lungs, liver, spleen. P. berghei infections may also affect the brain and can be the cause of cerebral complications in laboratory mice. These symptoms are to a certain degree comparable to symptoms of cerebral malaria in patients infected with the human malaria parasite Plasmodium falciparum.
P. berghei was first identified in the thicket rat (Grammomys surdaster). It has also been described in Leggada bella, Praomys jacksoni and Thamnomys surdaster. In research laboratories, various rodents can be infected, such as mice, rats and gerbils (Meriones unguiculatus).
P. berghei infection of laboratory mouse strains is frequently used in research as a model for human malaria. In the laboratory the natural hosts have been replaced by a number of commercially available laboratory mouse strains, and the mosquito Anopheles stephensi, which is comparatively easily reared and maintained under defined laboratory conditions.
P. berghei is used as a model organism for the investigation of human malaria because of its similarity to the Plasmodium species which cause human malaria. P. berghei has a very similar life-cycle to the species that infect humans, and it causes disease in mice which has signs similar to those seen in human malaria. Importantly, P. berghei can be genetically manipulated more easily than the species which infect humans, making it a useful model for research into Plasmodium genetics.
In several aspects the pathology caused by P. berghei in mice differs from malaria caused by P. falciparum in humans. In particular, while death from P. falciparum malaria in humans is most frequently caused by the accumulation of red blood cells in the blood vessels of the brain, it is unclear to what extent this occurs in mice infected with P. berghei. Instead, in P. berghei infection, mice are found to have an accumulation of immune cells in brain blood vessels. This has led some to question the use of P. berghei infections in mice as an appropriate model of cerebral malaria in humans.
P. berghei can be genetically manipulated in the laboratory using standard genetic engineering technologies. Consequently, this parasite is often used for the analysis of the function of malaria genes using the technology of genetic modification. Additionally, the genome of P. berghei has been sequenced and it shows a high similarity, both in structure and gene content, with the genome of the human malaria parasite Plasmodium falciparum.
A number of genetically modified P. berghei lines have been generated which express fluorescent reporter proteins such as Green Fluorescent Protein (GFP) and mCherry (red) or bioluminescent reporters such as Luciferase. These transgenic parasites are important tools to study and visualize the parasites in the living host.
P. berghei is used in research programs for development and screening of anti-malarial drugs and for the development of an effective vaccine against malaria.
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- General information about (the biology of) P. berghei
- Information about the genome and genes of P. berghei