Apoptosis in the malaria protozoan, Plasmodium berghei: a possible mechanism for limiting intensity of infection in the mosquito

Int J Parasitol. 2002 Aug;32(9):1133-43. doi: 10.1016/s0020-7519(02)00087-5.


Death by apoptosis regulates cell numbers in metazoan tissues and it is mediated by activation of caspases and results in characteristic morphological and biochemical changes. We report here that the malaria protozoan, Plasmodium berghei, exhibits features typical of metazoan apoptotic cells including condensation of chromatin, fragmentation of the nuclear DNA and movement of phosphatidylserine from the inner to the outer lamellae of the cell membrane. In addition, proteins with caspase-like activity were identified in the cytoplasm of the ookinete suggesting that the cellular mechanism of cell death may be similar to that of multicellular eukaryotes. Our data show that more than 50% of the mosquito midgut stages of the parasite die naturally by apoptosis before gut invasion. Cell death was prevented by a caspase inhibitor, treatment resulting in a doubling of parasite intensity. All these features also occur in vitro. Cell suicide thus plays a major and hitherto unrecognised role in controlling parasite populations and could be a novel target for malaria control strategies.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Animals
  • Anopheles / parasitology*
  • Apoptosis*
  • Caspase Inhibitors
  • Caspases / metabolism
  • Female
  • Insect Vectors / parasitology
  • Intestines / parasitology
  • Malaria / parasitology*
  • Malaria / transmission
  • Plasmodium berghei / cytology*
  • Plasmodium berghei / enzymology
  • Plasmodium berghei / growth & development
  • Plasmodium berghei / physiology*
  • Time Factors


  • Caspase Inhibitors
  • Caspases