Single-cell transcription analysis of Plasmodium vivax blood-stage parasites identifies stage- and species-specific profiles of expression

PLoS Biol. 2020 May 4;18(5):e3000711. doi: 10.1371/journal.pbio.3000711. eCollection 2020 May.


Plasmodium vivax and P. falciparum, the parasites responsible for most human malaria worldwide, exhibit striking biological differences, which have important clinical consequences. Unfortunately, P. vivax, unlike P. falciparum, cannot be cultivated continuously in vitro, which limits our understanding of its biology and, consequently, our ability to effectively control vivax malaria. Here, we describe single-cell gene expression profiles of 9,215 P. vivax parasites from bloodstream infections of Aotus and Saimiri monkeys. Our results show that transcription of most P. vivax genes occurs during short periods of the intraerythrocytic cycle and that this pattern of gene expression is conserved in other Plasmodium species. However, we also identify a strikingly high proportion of species-specific transcripts in late schizonts, possibly associated with the specificity of erythrocyte invasion. Our findings provide new and robust markers of blood-stage parasites, including some that are specific to the elusive P. vivax male gametocytes, and will be useful for analyzing gene expression data from laboratory and field samples.

Publication types

  • Research Support, N.I.H., Extramural
  • Research Support, N.I.H., Intramural

MeSH terms

  • Animals
  • Aotidae
  • Chloroquine
  • Female
  • Gene Expression
  • Male
  • Multigene Family
  • Plasmodium vivax / growth & development
  • Plasmodium vivax / metabolism*
  • Saimiri
  • Schizonts / metabolism
  • Sequence Analysis, RNA
  • Single-Cell Analysis
  • Species Specificity
  • Transcriptome*


  • Chloroquine

Supplementary concepts

  • Saimiri boliviensis