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How malaria raises cancer risk

Nature volume 524, page 269 (20 August 2015) | Download Citation

The malaria parasite damages DNA in mouse white blood cells, increasing the chances of them becoming cancerous. This could explain why Burkitt's lymphoma, a cancer of mature B cells, is common in areas where malaria is endemic.

Davide Robbiani and Michel Nussenzweig at the Rockefeller University in New York and their colleagues infected mice with a malaria parasite (Plasmodium chabaudi). This caused certain B cells in the spleen to proliferate rapidly and to express high, sustained levels of an enzyme called AID, which breaks DNA.

Malaria alone did not cause cancer in the mice. However, in animals lacking the p53 tumour suppressor gene, malaria promoted a type of lymphoma marked by chromosomal rearrangements similar to those in human Burkitt's lymphoma.

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