Low plasma haptoglobin is a risk factor for life-threatening childhood severe malarial anemia and not an exclusive consequence of hemolysis
- Malarial Anemia
Severe Malarial Anemia (SMA), a life-threatening childhood Plasmodium falciparum malaria syndrome requiring urgent blood transfusion, exhibits inflammatory and hemolytic pathology. Differentiating between hypo-haptoglobinemia due to hemolysis or that of genetic origin is key to understand SMA pathogenesis. We hypothesized that while malaria-induced hypo-haptoglobinemia should reverse at recovery, that of genetic etiology should not. We carried-out a case-control study of children living under hyper-endemic holoendemic malaria burden in the sub-Saharan metropolis of Ibadan, Nigeria. We show that hypo-haptoglobinemia is a risk factor for childhood SMA and not solely due to intravascular hemolysis from underlying schizogony. In children presenting with SMA, hypo-haptoglobinemia remains through convalescence to recovery suggesting a genetic cause. We identified a haptoglobin gene variant, rs12162087 (g.-1203G > A, frequency = 0.67), to be associated with plasma haptoglobin levels (p = 8.5 × 10 −6). The Homo-Var:(AA) is associated with high plasma haptoglobin while the reference Homo-Ref:(GG) is associated with hypo-haptoglobinemia (p = 2.3 × 10 −6). The variant is associated with SMA, with the most support for a risk effect for Homo-Ref genotype. Our insights on regulatory haptoglobin genotypes and hypo-haptoglobinemia suggest that haptoglobin screening could be part of risk-assessment algorithms to prevent rapid disease progression towards SMA in regions with no-access to urgent blood transfusion where SMA accounts for high childhood mortality rates. The annual global incidence of clinical malaria is estimated at about 216 million cases leading to approximately 445,000 deaths in 2016 1 , a slight increase in morbidity over what was previously reported 1,2. The mortality rate of malaria was estimated to be 90% in Africa, and 80% of these deaths occur in sub-Saharan Africa and mostly in the under five years-of-age group due to severe, and often-overlapping syndromes such as Severe Malarial Anemia.