BACKGROUND: Plasmodium falciparum infection during pregnancy is a major cause of poor maternal health, adverse foetal outcome and infant mortality in sub-Saharan Africa. Genetic disposition is involved in susceptibility to malaria in pregnancy and its manifestation. MicroRNAs (miRNAs) influence gene regulation including that of innate immune responses. A miRNA-146a rs2910164 G > C single nucleotide polymorphism (SNP) has been associated with increased risks of several diseases, but no data as to malaria are available. METHODS: The association between miRNA-146a rs2910164 and P. falciparum infection among 509 Ghanaian women attending antenatal care (ANC) and 296 delivering Ghanaian primiparae was investigated. Malaria parasites were diagnosed by microscopy and PCR. Leukocyte-associated hemozoin in placental samples was recorded as well. Proportions were compared between groups by Fisher's exact test, and logistic regression models were used to adjust for possible confounders. RESULTS: By PCR, P. falciparum infection was detected in 63% and 67% of ANC attendees and delivering primiparae, respectively. In both groups, two in three women were either heterozygous or homozygous for miRNA-146a rs2910164. Among ANC attendees, homozygosity conferred increased odds of infection (adjusted odds ratio (aOR), 2.3; 95% CI, 1.3-4.0), which was pronounced among primigravidae (aOR, 5.8; 95% CI, 1.6-26) but only marginal in multigravidae. Likewise, homozygosity for miRNA-146a rs2910164 in primiparae increased the odds of past or present placental P. falciparum infection almost six-fold (aOR, 5.9; 95% CI, 2.1-18). CONCLUSIONS: These results indicate that SNP rs2910164 G > C is associated with increased odds for P. falciparum infection in first-time pregnant women who are considered to lack sufficient acquired immune responses against pregnancy-specific strains of P. falciparum. These findings suggest that miRNA-146a is involved in protective malarial immunity, and specifically in the innate component.