How do variants of the hemoglobin S (HbS) gene affect the severity of malaria?

Updated: May 12, 2021
  • Author: Joseph E Maakaron, MD; Chief Editor: Emmanuel C Besa, MD  more...
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Answer

The HbS gene, when present in homozygous form, is an undesirable mutation, so a selective advantage in the heterozygous form must account for its high prevalence and persistence. Malaria is possibly the selecting agent because a concordance exists between the prevalence of malaria and Hb S. Sickling might protect a person from malaria by either (1) accelerating sickling so that parasitized cells are removed or (2) making it more difficult for the parasite to metabolize or to enter the sickled cell. While children with sickle cell trait Hb SA seem to have a milder form of falciparum malaria, those with homozygous Hb S have a severe form that is associated with a very high mortality rate.


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