Cerebral malaria (CM) caused by Plasmodium falciparum infection is a major
cause of death in children of developing countries, yet the costs of CM are not just
death alone. Recent studies have indicated that children who survive the disease
have an increased risk of persistent neurological deficits and cognitive
impairments. In this study we investigated the cerebral spinal fluid (CSF) levels of
the protein tau as a potential predicative measure of the severity of these deficits.
Tau is associated with the stabilization and assembly of neuronal microfilaments
and is found in the CSF after neuron damage. Elevated levels of tau have been
found in children with CM. We hypothesized that levels of tau in CM children
would be higher in those children who had neurologic deficits and higher in those
who had long-term cognitive impairments, compared to those who did not. We
measured tau in the CSF of 142 CM Ugandan children and compared levels to the
children’s cognitive and neurologic test scores in areas such as working memory,
executive attention and learning. Working memory was negatively correlated to
tau levels at both time of enrollment and at six months later (P=0.01 rho=-0.3;
P=0.02 rho=-0.3). Executive attention and learning were not correlated to tau
levels (all P>0.05), and there was no significant difference between those children
who had neurologic deficits and those who did not (P=0.5). Investigations of tau
levels with cognitive impairments are ongoing, as cognitive testing is still being
performed on some children.
Additional contributors: Robert Opika-Opoka; Michael J. Bolvin; Chandy C. John; Gregory S. Park (faculty mentor).
This project was supported by the University of Minnesota Undergraduate
Research Opportunities Program, and funding to Chandy C. John from the
National Institutes of Health Fogarty International Center (R21 TW-006794) and
the National Institute of Neurological Disorders and Stroke (R01-NS055349).
Ireland, Kathleen F..
Human Total Tau and its Role as a Possible Biomarker for Cognitive Deficits in Cerebral Malaria.
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