Malaria is a disease with diverse symptoms depending on host immune status and pathogenicity of Plasmodium parasites. The continuous parasite growth within a host suggests mechanisms of immune evasion by the parasite and/or immune inhibition in response to infection. To identify pathways commonly inhibited after malaria infection, we infected C57BL/6 mice with four Plasmodium yoelii strains causing different disease phenotypes and 24 progeny of a genetic cross. mRNAs from mouse spleens day 1 and/or day 4 post infection (p.i.) were hybridized to a mouse microarray to identify activated or inhibited pathways, upstream regulators, and host genes playing an important role in malaria infection. Strong interferon responses were observed after infection with the N67 strain, whereas initial inhibition and later activation of hematopoietic pathways were found after infection with 17XNL parasite, showing unique responses to individual parasite strains. Inhibitions of pathways such as Th1 activation, dendritic cell (DC) maturation, and NFAT immune regulation were observed in mice infected with all the parasite strains day 4 p.i., suggesting universally inhibited immune pathways. As a proof of principle, treatment of N67-infected mice with antibodies against T cell receptors OX40 or CD28 to activate the inhibited pathways enhanced host survival. Controlled activation of these pathways may provide important strategies for better disease management and for developing an effective vaccine.
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