Plasmodium falciparum isolates were obtained from Thai patients attending a malaria clinic on the Thai-Kampuchean border over 4 cross-sectional surveys carried out at 3-monthly intervals. The genetic structure of the parasite populations was determined by nested polymerase chain reaction (PCR) amplification of polymorphic regions of 3 P. falciparum antigen genes: msp1, msp2 and glurp. Although a high degree of diversity characterized these isolates, the overall population structure of the parasites associated with patent malaria infections was observed to remain relatively stable over time. The highest degree of polymorphism was observed with msp2, and the mean number of lines per infection (multiplicity of infection) calculated with this marker was higher than that obtained using msp1 or glurp alone, or combined. Infections with > or = 2 parasite lines were seen in 76% of the samples, and were proportionally more numerous at the start and end of the rainy season. Two interesting exceptions to the random distribution were observed and involved 2 allelic variants which in one case were found dissociated (msp1 MAD20-family) and in the other were associated (msp2 FC27-family). The epidemiological significance of these types of data is discussed.