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Splenomegaly frequently occurs in patients with Plasmodium falciparum (Pf) or P. vivax (Pv) malarial anemia, but mechanisms underlying this co-occurrence are unclear. In malaria-endemic Papua, Indonesia, we prospectively analyzed red blood cell (RBC) concentrations in the spleen and spleen-mimetic retention in 37 subjects splenectomized for trauma or hyperreactive splenomegaly, most of whom were infected with Plasmodium. Splenomegaly (median 357 g [range: 80-1918 g]) was correlated positively with the proportion of red-pulp on histological sections (median 88.1% [range: 74%-99.4%]; r = .59, p = .0003) and correlated negatively with the proportion of white-pulp (median 8.3% [range: 0.4%-22.9%]; r = -.50, p = .002). The number of RBC per microscopic field (>95% uninfected) was correlated positively with spleen weight in both Pf-infected (r = .73; p = .017) and Pv-infected spleens (r = .94; p = .006). The median estimated proportion of total-body RBCs retained in Pf-infected spleens was 8.2% (range: 1.0%-33.6%), significantly higher than in Pv-infected (2.6% [range: 0.6%-23.8%]; p = .015) and PCR-negative subjects (2.5% [range: 1.0%-3.3%]; p = .006). Retained RBCs accounted for over half of circulating RBC loss seen in Pf infections. The proportion of total-body RBC retained in Pf- and Pv-infected spleens correlated negatively with hemoglobin concentrations (r = -.56, p = .0003), hematocrit (r = -.58, p = .0002), and circulating RBC counts (r = -.56, p = .0003). Splenic CD71-positive reticulocyte concentrations correlated with spleen weight in Pf (r = 1.0; p = .003). Retention rates of peripheral and splenic RBCs were correlated negatively with circulating RBC counts (r = -.69, p = .07 and r = -.83, p = .008, respectively). In conclusion, retention of mostly uninfected RBC in the spleen, leading to marked congestion of the red-pulp, was associated with splenomegaly and is the major mechanism of anemia in subjects infected with Plasmodium, particularly Pf.

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Journal article


Am J Hematol

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