Dried whole-plant Artemisia annua slows evolution of malaria drug resistance and overcomes resistance to artemisinin

Proc Natl Acad Sci U S A. 2015 Jan 20;112(3):821-6. doi: 10.1073/pnas.1413127112. Epub 2015 Jan 5.


Pharmaceutical monotherapies against human malaria have proven effective, although ephemeral, owing to the inevitable evolution of resistant parasites. Resistance to two or more drugs delivered in combination will evolve more slowly; hence combination therapies have become the preferred norm in the fight against malaria. At the forefront of these efforts has been the promotion of Artemisinin Combination Therapy, but despite these efforts, resistance to artemisinin has begun to emerge. In 2012, we demonstrated the efficacy of the whole plant (WP)--not a tea, not an infusion--as a malaria therapy and found it to be more effective than a comparable dose of pure artemisinin in a rodent malaria model. Here we show that WP overcomes existing resistance to pure artemisinin in the rodent malaria Plasmodium yoelii. Moreover, in a long-term artificial selection for resistance in Plasmodium chabaudi, we tested resilience of WP against drug resistance in comparison with pure artemisinin (AN). Stable resistance to WP was achieved three times more slowly than stable resistance to AN. WP treatment proved even more resilient than the double dose of AN. The resilience of WP may be attributable to the evolutionary refinement of the plant's secondary metabolic products into a redundant, multicomponent defense system. Efficacy and resilience of WP treatment against rodent malaria provides compelling reasons to further explore the role of nonpharmaceutical forms of AN to treat human malaria.

Keywords: Plasmodium; artemisinin; drug resistance; evolution; malaria.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Animals
  • Antimalarials / pharmacology*
  • Artemisia annua / chemistry*
  • Artemisinins / pharmacology*
  • Drug Resistance*
  • Mice


  • Antimalarials
  • Artemisinins
  • artemisinine