Hepatic spheroids used as an in vitro model to study malaria relapse

Biomaterials. 2019 Sep;216:119221. doi: 10.1016/j.biomaterials.2019.05.032. Epub 2019 May 22.


Hypnozoites are the liver stage non-dividing form of the malaria parasite that are responsible for relapse and acts as a natural reservoir for human malaria Plasmodium vivax and P. ovale as well as a phylogenetically related simian malaria P. cynomolgi. Our understanding of hypnozoite biology remains limited due to the technical challenge of requiring the use of primary hepatocytes and the lack of robust and predictive in vitro models. In this study, we developed a malaria liver stage model using 3D spheroid-cultured primary hepatocytes. The infection of primary hepatocytes in suspension led to increased infectivity of both P. cynomolgi and P. vivax infections. We demonstrated that this hepatic spheroid model was capable of maintaining long term viability, hepatocyte specific functions and cell polarity which enhanced permissiveness and thus, permitting for the complete development of both P. cynomolgi and P. vivax liver stage parasites in the infected spheroids. The model described here was able to capture the full liver stage cycle starting with sporozoites and ending in the release of hepatic merozoites capable of invading simian erythrocytes in vitro. Finally, we showed that this system can be used for compound screening to discriminate between causal prophylactic and cidal antimalarials activity in vitro for relapsing malaria.

Keywords: Cellusponge; Hepatocytes culture; Plasmodium cynomolgi; Plasmodium vivax; Radical cure; Spheroids.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Animals
  • Antimalarials / pharmacology*
  • Cell Culture Techniques / methods
  • Cell Line
  • Cells, Cultured
  • Hepatocytes / cytology
  • Hepatocytes / parasitology*
  • Humans
  • Liver / cytology
  • Liver / parasitology
  • Macaca fascicularis
  • Macaca mulatta
  • Malaria / drug therapy*
  • Parasitic Sensitivity Tests / methods
  • Plasmodium / drug effects*
  • Recurrence
  • Secondary Prevention
  • Spheroids, Cellular / cytology
  • Spheroids, Cellular / parasitology
  • Sporozoites / drug effects


  • Antimalarials