Experimental determination of the force of malaria infection reveals a non-linear relationship to mosquito sporozoite loads

PLoS Pathog. 2020 May 26;16(5):e1008181. doi: 10.1371/journal.ppat.1008181. eCollection 2020 May.


Plasmodium sporozoites are the infective stage of the malaria parasite. Though this is a bottleneck for the parasite, the quantitative dynamics of transmission, from mosquito inoculation of sporozoites to patent blood-stage infection in the mammalian host, are poorly understood. Here we utilize a rodent model to determine the probability of malaria infection after infectious mosquito bite, and consider the impact of mosquito parasite load, blood-meal acquisition, probe-time, and probe location, on infection probability. We found that infection likelihood correlates with mosquito sporozoite load and, to a lesser degree, the duration of probing, and is not dependent upon the mosquito's ability to find blood. The relationship between sporozoite load and infection probability is non-linear and can be described by a set of models that include a threshold, with mosquitoes harboring over 10,000 salivary gland sporozoites being significantly more likely to initiate a malaria infection. Overall, our data suggest that the small subset of highly infected mosquitoes may contribute disproportionally to malaria transmission in the field and that quantifying mosquito sporozoite loads could aid in predicting the force of infection in different transmission settings.

Publication types

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

MeSH terms

  • Animals
  • Anopheles / metabolism
  • Anopheles / parasitology
  • Feeding Behavior
  • Female
  • Malaria / parasitology
  • Malaria / transmission*
  • Mice
  • Mosquito Vectors / metabolism
  • Plasmodium / metabolism
  • Plasmodium / pathogenicity
  • Plasmodium yoelii / metabolism
  • Plasmodium yoelii / pathogenicity
  • Salivary Glands / parasitology
  • Sporozoites / metabolism*
  • Sporozoites / physiology