A 3D map of a protein offers the possibility of developing a vaccine against malaria

A three-dimensional “map” of a critical protein that malaria parasites use to invade human red blood cells can lead to a vaccine to deal with the most widespread parasite species, according to a new study published in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences.

The researchers created the first three-dimensional “map” of the PvRBP protein, used by Plasmodium vivax to infect human red blood cells.

The new study could allow scientists to create new tools that will block the infection from Plasmodium vivax and potentially lead to a disease prevention vaccine.

Understanding how malaria parasites infect red blood cells was indispensable for developing strategies to prevent malaria. Plasmodium vivax invades immature red blood cells, producing proteins that recognize and bind to receptors on the surface of red blood cells.

“We have created the first three-dimensional atomic structure of the PvRBP protein using the Australian Synchrotron in Melbourne. We now have virtually a map where proteins bind to their receptors, which gives us the instructions we need to start designing inhibitors that could be used in a malaria vaccine, “the researchers said in their study.

At the same time, the researchers describe in their study that they found that the family of proteins was structurally almost identical to those used by Plasmodium falciparum, the most deadly parasite of malaria, for the infection of red blood cells.

“Now that we have a guide, we hope to identify a common part of the protein that could be used to create a vaccine, not only for Plasmodium vivax but possibly for Plasmodium falciparum,” the researchers also state in their study.