Hemolysis causes anemia in falciparum malaria, but its contribution to microvascular pathology in severe malaria (SM) is not well characterized. In other hemolytic diseases, release of cell-free hemoglobin causes nitric oxide (NO) quenching, endothelial activation, and vascular complications. We examined the relationship of plasma hemoglobin and myoglobin to endothelial dysfunction and disease severity in malaria.
Cell-free hemoglobin (a potent NO quencher), reactive hyperemia peripheral arterial tonometry (RH-PAT) (a measure of endothelial NO bioavailability), and measures of perfusion and endothelial activation were quantified in adults with moderately severe (n = 78) or severe (n = 49) malaria and control subjects (n = 16) from Papua, Indonesia.
Cell-free hemoglobin concentrations in patients with SM (median, 5.4 μmol/L; interquartile range [IQR], 3.2–7.4 μmol/L) were significantly higher than in those with moderately severe malaria (2.6 μmol/L; IQR, 1.3–4.5 μmol/L) or controls (1.2 μmol/L; IQR, 0.9–2.4 μmol/L; P < .001). Multivariable regression analysis revealed that cell-free hemoglobin remained inversely associated with RH-PAT, and in patients with SM, there was a significant longitudinal association between improvement in RH-PAT index and decreasing levels of cell-free hemoglobin (P = .047). Cell-free hemoglobin levels were also independently associated with lactate, endothelial activation, and proinflammatory cytokinemia.
Hemolysis in falciparum malaria results in NO quenching by cell-free hemoglobin, and may exacerbate endothelial dysfunction, adhesion receptor expression and impaired tissue perfusion. Treatments that increase NO bioavailability may have potential as adjunctive therapies in SM.