Systems biology of malaria explored with nonhuman primates

Malar J. 2022 Jun 7;21(1):177. doi: 10.1186/s12936-022-04199-2.


"The Primate Malarias" book has been a uniquely important resource for multiple generations of scientists, since its debut in 1971, and remains pertinent to the present day. Indeed, nonhuman primates (NHPs) have been instrumental for major breakthroughs in basic and pre-clinical research on malaria for over 50 years. Research involving NHPs have provided critical insights and data that have been essential for malaria research on many parasite species, drugs, vaccines, pathogenesis, and transmission, leading to improved clinical care and advancing research goals for malaria control, elimination, and eradication. Whilst most malaria scientists over the decades have been studying Plasmodium falciparum, with NHP infections, in clinical studies with humans, or using in vitro culture or rodent model systems, others have been dedicated to advancing research on Plasmodium vivax, as well as on phylogenetically related simian species, including Plasmodium cynomolgi, Plasmodium coatneyi, and Plasmodium knowlesi. In-depth study of these four phylogenetically related species over the years has spawned the design of NHP longitudinal infection strategies for gathering information about ongoing infections, which can be related to human infections. These Plasmodium-NHP infection model systems are reviewed here, with emphasis on modern systems biological approaches to studying longitudinal infections, pathogenesis, immunity, and vaccines. Recent discoveries capitalizing on NHP longitudinal infections include an advanced understanding of chronic infections, relapses, anaemia, and immune memory. With quickly emerging new technological advances, more in-depth research and mechanistic discoveries can be anticipated on these and additional critical topics, including hypnozoite biology, antigenic variation, gametocyte transmission, bone marrow dysfunction, and loss of uninfected RBCs. New strategies and insights published by the Malaria Host-Pathogen Interaction Center (MaHPIC) are recapped here along with a vision that stresses the importance of educating future experts well trained in utilizing NHP infection model systems for the pursuit of innovative, effective interventions against malaria.

Keywords: Gametocytes; Host–pathogen interactions; Immunity; Macaca fascicularis; Macaca mulatta; New World monkeys; Pathogenesis; Plasmodium; Rhesus macaques; Systems immunology.

Publication types

  • Review

MeSH terms

  • Animals
  • Malaria* / parasitology
  • Plasmodium cynomolgi*
  • Plasmodium knowlesi*
  • Primates
  • Systems Biology