Gametocytes of the malaria parasite Plasmodium falciparum interact with and stimulate bone marrow mesenchymal cells to secrete angiogenetic factors

Valeria Messina, Mauro Valtieri, Mercedes Rubio, Mario Falchi, Francesca Mancini, Alfredo Mayor, Pietro Alano, Francesco Silvestrini

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The gametocytes of Plasmodium falciparum, responsible for the transmission of this malaria parasite from humans to mosquitoes, accumulate and mature preferentially in the human bone marrow. In the 10 day long sexual development of P. falciparum, the immature gametocytes reach and localize in the extravascular compartment of this organ, in contact with several bone marrow stroma cell types, prior to traversing the endothelial lining and re-entering in circulation at maturity. To investigate the host parasite interplay underlying this still obscure process, we developed an in vitro tridimensional co-culture system in a Matrigel scaffold with P. falciparum gametocytes and self-assembling spheroids of human bone marrow mesenchymal cells (hBM-MSCs). Here we show that this co-culture system sustains the full maturation of the gametocytes and that the immature, but not the mature, gametocytes adhere to hBM-MSCs via trypsin-sensitive parasite ligands exposed on the erythrocyte surface. Analysis of a time course of gametocytogenesis in the co-culture system revealed that gametocyte maturation is accompanied by the parasite induced stimulation of hBM-MSCs to secrete a panel of 14 cytokines and growth factors, 13 of which have been described to play a role in angiogenesis. Functional in vitro assays on human bone marrow endothelial cells showed that supernatants from the gametocyte mesenchymal cell co-culture system enhance ability of endothelial cells to form vascular tubes. These results altogether suggest that the interplay between immature gametocytes and hBM-MSCs may induce functional and structural alterations in the endothelial lining of the human bone marrow hosting the P. falciparum transmission stages.

Original languageEnglish
Article number50
JournalFrontiers in cellular and infection microbiology
Issue numberMAR
Publication statusPublished - Mar 1 2018


  • Angiogenesis
  • Bone marrow
  • Gametocytes
  • Host-pathogen interactions
  • Malaria

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Microbiology
  • Immunology
  • Microbiology (medical)
  • Infectious Diseases


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