The parasite that causes malaria is capable of deceiving the immune system, according to  a new study by scientists at Trinity College Dublin.

The researchers found that the parasites, Plasmodium falciparum, can use a form of communication to send a misleading message to the body's protective shield.

The fresh insight could help with the development of new treatments for the disease, which infects 200 million people all over the world every year, killing around 500,000 of them.

Most of the casualties are children under five, with around 1,000 young children losing their lives to the disease every day.

The team from the School of Biochemistry and Immunology in Trinity College Dublin found that within the first 12 hours after they infect red blood cells, the malaria parasites release nanovesicles.

These tiny DNA-filled objects are capable of breaking into monocytes - the cells that form the initial barrier in the immune system and summon help from specialist infection fighting cells.

But the team also discovered that malaria parasites go a step further.

"When our immune system responds to pathogens such as malaria, it's a double-edged sword," said Professor in Immunology at Trinity College Dublin, Andrew Bowie.

"The wrong kind of response can actually favour the pathogen and lead to more harm than good."

"And it seems that malaria parasites actually switch on an immune response to their own DNA to survive longer."

"Here we found the switch mechanism for this, an immune sensor called STING which senses DNA from the malaria nanovesicles when it is delivered into monocytes."

"Through STING, malaria parasites fool the immune system into inappropriate responses that favour the parasite's survival."

The scientists say the discovery might enable them to find a way to disrupt the mechanism that allows malaria to evade the immune system, opening the door to possible new ways of blocking the infection.
 
The findings build on earlier discoveries by Dr Neta Regev-Rudzki of the Weizmann Institute in Israel that revealed the manner in which malaria parasites are able to communicate with each other during the incubation stage.

The research is published in the journal Nature Communications.
 

The scientists say the discovery might enable them to find a way to disrupt the mechanism that allows malaria to evade the immune system, opening the door to possible new ways of blocking the infection.
 
The findings build on earlier discoveries by Dr Neta Regev-Rudzki of the Weizmann Institute in Israel that revealed the manner in which malaria parasites are able to communicate with each other during the incubation stage.

The research is published in the journal Nature Communications.