How the brain controls malaria pain

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Abdulsalam Mahmud

Though, malaria is 'deadly' and have claimed millions of lives, especially in Africa, it is the brain that controls both the pain and fever aspects of the disease in human beings, a research lecturer at the University of Ilorin (UNILORIN), in Kwara State, Dr. Aboyeji Lukuman Oyewole, has said.


He made this known, while discussing a research work he carried out, together with two of his colleagues at the school.


The research paper titled, "Plasmodium berghei-induced malaria decreases pain sensitivity in mice," was published by the Onderstepoort Journal of Veterinary Research.


In a chat with this reporter, Oyewole explained that their major preoccupation in the research project was to investigate how human brain responds to malaria parasite.


"The plan is to investigate the form of pain that usually accompany malaria infection, in people, and we used animal (rodent) model to conduct the research," he said.


The UNILORIN researcher, however pointed out that what they observed in human beings contradicted what they observed in animals.


His words: "Various types of pain were reported by people with Plasmodium falciparum and were mostly attributed to a symptom of malarial infection. Neural processes of pain sensation during malarial infection and their contributions to malaria-related death are poorly understood. Thus, these form the focus of this study. Swiss mice used for this study were randomly divided into two groups. 


"Animals in the first group (Pb-infected group) were inoculated with Plasmodium berghei to induce malaria whilst the other group (intact group) was not infected. Formalin test was used to assess pain sensitivity in both groups and using various antagonists, the possible mechanism for deviation in pain sensitivity was probed.


"Also, plasma and brain samples collected from animals in both groups were subjected to biochemical and/or histological studies. The results showed that Pb-infected mice exhibited diminished pain-related behaviours to noxious chemical."


According to Dr. Oyewole, when varied drugs capable of decreasing pain threshold (pro-nociceptive drugs) were used, the survival rate was not significantly different in the Pb-infected mice. 

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"This showed little or no contribution of the pain processing system to malaria-related death... In conclusion, the pain symptom was remarkably decreased in the animal model for malaria, and thus, the model may not be appropriate for investigating malaria-linked pain as reported in humans," he said.


The university lecturer, argued that the future is promising as far as eradicating malaria is concerned, with additional grants for them to carry out further study on their latest findings.


Said Oyewole: "The first one is that if we are able to isolate the products that is associated with this parasite that causes decrease pain perception in the mice, we may be able to process the products into analgesic drug, which may be useful for human being.


"Second, we can devise a method to be used for monitoring complicated malaria in hospitals to see how patients respond to treatment."


Question tool for malaria study 


A Professor of Physiology with specialization in Neuroscience and Neurophysiology, Bamidele Owoyele, on his part, said it is time scientists question the tool they use in studying the basic science of malaria effect, as it may not be translational.


Prof. Owoyele, Head of the Physiology Department at UNILORIN and also Dr. Oyewole's research supervisor, added: "Further studies might yield important information on how malaria leads to the production of certain chemicals in mice. And the Chemicals may eventually be helpful in finding cure to the pain that humans experience when they have malaria infection."

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