Cerebral malaria is a life-threatening complication of malaria infection. The pathogenesis of cerebral malaria is poorly defined and progress in understanding the condition is severely hampered by the inability to study in detail, ante-mortem, the parasitological and immunological events within the brain that lead to the onset of clinical symptoms. Experimental murine models have been used to investigate the sequence of events that lead to cerebral malaria, but there is significant debate on the merits of these models and whether their study is relevant to human disease. Here we review the current understanding of the parasitological and immunological events leading to human and experimental cerebral malaria, and explain why we believe that studies with experimental models of CM are crucial to define the pathogenesis of the condition.
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