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Nature : a weekly illustrated journal of science
Malaria causes approximately one million fatalities per year, mostly among African children. Although highlighted by the strong protective effect of the sickle-cell trait, the full impact of human genetics on resistance to the disease remains largely unexplored. Genome-wide association (GWA) studies are designed to unravel relevant genetic variants comprehensively; however, in malaria, as in other infectious diseases, these studies have been only partly successful. Here we identify two previously unknown loci associated with severe falciparum malaria in patients and controls from Ghana, West Africa. We applied the GWA approach to the diverse clinical syndromes of severe falciparum malaria, thereby targeting human genetic variants influencing any step in the complex pathogenesis of the disease. One of the loci was identified on chromosome 1q32 within the ATP2B4 gene, which encodes the main calcium pump of erythrocytes, the host cells of the pathogenic stage of malaria parasites. The second was indicated by an intergenic single nucleotide polymorphism on chromosome 16q22.2, possibly linked to a neighbouring gene encoding the tight-junction protein MARVELD3. The protein is expressed on endothelial cells and might therefore have a role in microvascular damage caused by endothelial adherence of parasitized erythrocytes. We also confirmed previous reports on protective effects of the sickle-cell trait and blood group O. Our findings underline the potential of the GWA approach to provide candidates for the development of control measures against infectious diseases in humans.