Recombinase Polymerase Amplification and Lateral Flow Assay for Ultrasensitive Detection of Low-Density Plasmodium falciparum Infection from Controlled Human Malaria Infection Studies and Naturally Acquired Infections

J Clin Microbiol. 2020 Apr 23;58(5):e01879-19. doi: 10.1128/JCM.01879-19. Print 2020 Apr 23.


Microscopy and rapid diagnostic tests (RDTs) are the main diagnostic tools for malaria but fail to detect low-density parasitemias that are important for maintaining malaria transmission. To complement existing diagnostic methods, an isothermal reverse transcription-recombinase polymerase amplification and lateral flow assay (RT-RPA) was developed. We compared the performance with that of ultrasensitive reverse transcription-quantitative PCR (uRT-qPCR) using nucleic acid extracts from blood samples (n = 114) obtained after standardized controlled human malaria infection (CHMI) with Plasmodium falciparum sporozoites. As a preliminary investigation, we also sampled asymptomatic individuals (n = 28) in an area of malaria endemicity (Lambaréné, Gabon) to validate RT-RPA and assess its performance with unprocessed blood samples (dbRT-RPA). In 114 samples analyzed from CHMI trials, the positive percent agreement to uRT-qPCR was 90% (95% confidence interval [CI], 80 to 96). The negative percent agreement was 100% (95% CI, 92 to 100). The lower limit of detection was 64 parasites/ml. In Gabon, RT-RPA was 100% accurate with asymptomatic volunteers (n = 28), while simplified dbRT-RPA showed 89% accuracy. In a subgroup analysis, RT-RPA detected 9/10 RT-qPCR-positive samples, while loop-mediated isothermal amplification (LAMP) detected 2/10. RT-RPA is a reliable diagnostic test for asymptomatic low-density infections. It is particularly useful in settings where uRT-qPCR is difficult to implement.

Keywords: CHMI; Plasmodium falciparum; diagnostics; elimination; isothermal; mass screen and treat; submicroscopic.

Publication types

  • Research Support, N.I.H., Extramural
  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't