Malaria-induced changes in host odors enhance mosquito attraction

Proc Natl Acad Sci U S A. 2014 Jul 29;111(30):11079-84. doi: 10.1073/pnas.1405617111. Epub 2014 Jun 30.


Vector-borne pathogens may alter traits of their primary hosts in ways that influence the frequency and nature of interactions between hosts and vectors. Previous work has reported enhanced mosquito attraction to host organisms infected with malaria parasites but did not address the mechanisms underlying such effects. Here we document malaria-induced changes in the odor profiles of infected mice (relative to healthy individuals) over the course of infection, as well as effects on the attractiveness of infected hosts to mosquito vectors. We observed enhanced mosquito attraction to infected mice during a key period after the subsidence of acute malaria symptoms, but during which mice remained highly infectious. This attraction corresponded to an overall elevation in the volatile emissions of infected mice observed during this period. Furthermore, data analyses--using discriminant analysis of principal components and random forest approaches--revealed clear differences in the composition of the volatile blends of infected and healthy individuals. Experimental manipulation of individual compounds that exhibited altered emission levels during the period when differential vector attraction was observed also elicited enhanced mosquito attraction, indicating that compounds being influenced by malaria infection status also mediate vector host-seeking behavior. These findings provide important insights into the cues that mediate vector attraction to hosts infected with transmissible stages of malaria parasites, as well as documenting characteristic changes in the odors of infected individuals that may have potential value as diagnostic biomarkers of infection.

Keywords: chemical cues; disease biomarkers; disease ecology; host manipulation; vector behavior.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Animals
  • Anopheles*
  • Behavior, Animal*
  • Female
  • Insect Vectors*
  • Malaria*
  • Mice
  • Odorants*
  • Plasmodium chabaudi*