Background: Artemisinin resistance in Plasmodium falciparum lengthens parasite clearance half-life during artemisinin monotherapy or artemisinin-based combination therapy. Absence of in-vitro and ex-vivo correlates of artemisinin resistance hinders study of this phenotype. We aimed to assess whether an in-vitro ring-stage survival assay (RSA) can identify culture-adapted P falciparum isolates from patients with slow-clearing or fast-clearing infections, to investigate the stage-dependent susceptibility of parasites to dihydroartemisinin in the in-vitro RSA, and to assess whether an ex-vivo RSA can identify artemisinin-resistant P falciparum infections.
Methods: We culture-adapted parasites from patients with long and short parasite clearance half-lives from a study done in Pursat, Cambodia, in 2010 (registered with ClinicalTrials.gov, number NCT00341003) and used novel in-vitro survival assays to explore the stage-dependent susceptibility of slow-clearing and fast-clearing parasites to dihydroartemisinin. In 2012, we implemented the RSA in prospective parasite clearance studies in Pursat, Preah Vihear, and Ratanakiri, Cambodia (NCT01736319), to measure the ex-vivo responses of parasites from patients with malaria. Continuous variables were compared with the Mann-Whitney U test. Correlations were analysed with the Spearman correlation test.
Findings: In-vitro survival rates of culture-adapted parasites from 13 slow-clearing and 13 fast-clearing infections differed significantly when assays were done on 0-3 h ring-stage parasites (10·88% vs 0·23%; p=0·007). Ex-vivo survival rates significantly correlated with in-vivo parasite clearance half-lives (n=30, r=0·74, 95% CI 0·50-0·87; p<0·0001).
Interpretation: The in-vitro RSA of 0-3 h ring-stage parasites provides a platform for the molecular characterisation of artemisinin resistance. The ex-vivo RSA can be easily implemented where surveillance for artemisinin resistance is needed.
Funding: Institut Pasteur du Cambodge and the Intramural Research Program, NIAID, NIH.
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