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Open Access Highly Accessed Research

Fitness components and natural selection: why are there different patterns on the emergence of drug resistance in Plasmodium falciparum and Plasmodium vivax?

Kristan A Schneider12 and Ananias A Escalante34

Author Affiliations

1 Department of MNI, University of Applied Sciences Mittweida, Mittweida, Germany

2 Department of Mathematics, University of Vienna, Vienna, Austria

3 Center for Evolutionary Medicine and Informatics, Arizona State University, Tempe, USA

4 School of Life Sciences, Arizona State University, Tempe, USA

Malaria Journal 2013, 12:15  doi:10.1186/1475-2875-12-15

Published: 11 January 2013

Abstract

Background

Considering the distinct biological characteristics of Plasmodium species is crucial for control and elimination efforts, in particular when facing the spread of drug resistance. Whereas the evolutionary fitness of all malarial species could be approximated by the probability of being taken by a mosquito and then infecting a new host, the actual steps in the malaria life cycle leading to a successful transmission event show differences among Plasmodium species. These “steps” are called fitness components. Differences in terms of fitness components may affect how selection imposed by interventions, e.g. drug treatments, differentially acts on each Plasmodium species. Thus, a successful malaria control or elimination programme should understand how differences in fitness components among different malaria species could affect adaptive evolution (e.g. the emergence of drug resistance). In this investigation, the interactions between some fitness components and natural selection are explored.

Methods

A population-genetic model is formulated that qualitatively explains how different fitness components (in particular gametocytogenesis and longevity of gametocytes) affect selection acting on merozoites during the erythrocytic cycle. By comparing Plasmodium falciparum and Plasmodium vivax, the interplay of parasitaemia and gametocytaemia dynamics in determining fitness is modelled under circumstances that allow contrasting solely the differences between these two parasites in terms of their fitness components.

Results

By simulating fitness components, it is shown that selection acting on merozoites (e.g., on drug resistant mutations or malaria antigens) is more efficient in P. falciparum than in P. vivax. These results could explain, at least in part, why resistance against drugs, such as chloroquine (CQ) is highly prevalent in P. falciparum worldwide, while CQ is still a successful treatment for P. vivax despite its massive use. Furthermore, these analyses are used to explore the importance of understanding the dynamic of gametocytaemia to ascertain the spreading of drug resistance.

Conclusions

The strength of natural selection on mutations that express their advantage at the merozoite stage is different in P. vivax and P. falciparum. Species-specific differences in gametocytogenesis and longevity of gametocytes need to be accounted for when designing effective malaria control and elimination programmes. There is a need for reliable data on gametocytogenesis from field studies.

Keywords:
Fitness components; Natural Selection; Primaquine; Artemisinin based combination therapy; Malaria elimination; Gametocytogenesis