Transmission of molecularly undetectable circulating parasite clones leads to high infection complexity in mosquitoes post feeding

Int J Parasitol. 2018 Jul;48(8):671-677. doi: 10.1016/j.ijpara.2018.02.005. Epub 2018 May 5.


Plasmodium falciparum malaria infections often comprise multiple distinct parasite clones. Few datasets have directly assessed infection complexity in humans and mosquitoes they infect. Examining parasites using molecular tools may provide insights into the selective transmissibility of isolates. Using capillary electrophoresis genotyping and next generation amplicon sequencing, we analysed complexity of parasite infections in human blood and in the midguts of mosquitoes that became infected in membrane feeding experiments using the same blood material in two West African settings. Median numbers of clones in humans and mosquitoes were higher in samples from Burkina Faso (4.5, interquartile range 2-8 for humans; and 2, interquartile range 1-3 for mosquitoes) than in The Gambia (2, interquartile range 1-3 and 1, interquartile range 1-3, for humans and mosquitoes, respectively). Whilst the median number of clones was commonly higher in human blood samples, not all transmitted alleles were detectable in the human peripheral blood. In both study sample sets, additional parasite alleles were identified in mosquitoes compared with the matched human samples (10-88.9% of all clones/feeding assay, n = 73 feeding assays). The results are likely due to preferential amplification of the most abundant clones in peripheral blood but confirm the presence of low density clones that produce transmissible sexual stage parasites.

Keywords: Malaria; Mosquito; Multiplicity of infection; Transmission.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Animals
  • Anopheles / parasitology*
  • Burkina Faso / epidemiology
  • Gambia / epidemiology
  • Genotype*
  • Host-Parasite Interactions
  • Humans
  • Malaria, Falciparum / epidemiology
  • Malaria, Falciparum / parasitology*
  • Mosquito Vectors / parasitology
  • Plasmodium falciparum / genetics*