Haemozoin: From melatonin pigment to drug target, diagnostic tool, and immune modulator
Plasmodium spp produce a pigment (haemozoin) to detoxify the free haem that is generated by haemoglobin degradation. Haemozoin was originally thought to be an inert waste byproduct of the parasite. However, recent research has led to the recognition that haemozoin is possibly of great importance in various aspects of malaria. Haemozoin is the target of many antimalarial drugs, and the unravelling of the exact modes of action may allow the design of novel antimalarial compounds. The detection of haemozoin in erythrocytes or leucocytes facilitates the diagnosis of malaria. The number of haemozoin-containing monocytes and granulocytes has been shown to correlate well with disease severity and may hold the potential for becoming a novel, automated laboratory marker in the assessment of patients. Finally, haemozoin has a substantial effect on the immune system. Further research is needed to clarify these aspects, many of which are important in clinical practice.
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