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Identification of resistance of Plasmodium falciparum to artesunate-mefloquine combination in an area along the Thai-Myanmar border: integration of clinico-parasitological response, systemic drug exposure, and in vitro parasite sensitivity

Kesara Na-Bangchang1*, Phunuch Muhamad1, Ronnatrai Ruaengweerayut2, Wanna Chaijaroenkul1 and Juntra Karbwang3

Author Affiliations

1 International College of Medicine, Thammasat University, Klongluang, Pathumthanee, Thailand

2 Mae Sot General Hospital, Mae Sot, Tak province, Thailand

3 Department of Clinical Product Development, Institute of Tropical Medicine, Nagasaki University, Nagasaki, Japan

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Malaria Journal 2013, 12:263  doi:10.1186/1475-2875-12-263

Published: 30 July 2013



A markedly high failure rate of three-day artesunate-mefloquine was observed in the area along the Thai-Myanmar border.


Identification of Plasmodium falciparum isolates with intrinsic resistance to each component of the artesunate-mefloquine combination was analysed with integrated information on clinico-parasitological response, together with systemic drug exposure (area under blood/plasma concentration-time curves (AUC)) of dihydroartemisinin and mefloquine, and in vitro sensitivity of P. falciparum in a total of 17 out of 29 P. falciparum isolates from patients with acute uncomplicated falciparum malaria. Analysis of the contribution of in vitro parasite sensitivity and systemic drug exposure and relationship with pfmdr1 copy number in the group with sensitive response was performed in 21 of 69 cases.


Identification of resistance and/or reduced intrinsic parasitocidal activity of artesunate and/or mefloquine without pharmacokinetic or other host-related factors were confirmed in six cases: one with reduced sensitivity to artesunate alone, two with resistance to mefloquine alone, and three with reduced sensitivity to artesunate combined with resistance to mefloquine. Resistance and/or reduced intrinsic parasitocidal activity of mefloquine/artesunate, together with contribution of pharmacokinetic factor of mefloquine and/or artesunate were identified in seven cases: two with resistance to mefloquine alone, and five with resistance to mefloquine combined with reduced sensitivity to artesunate. Pharmacokinetic factor alone contributed to recrudescence in three cases, all of which had inadequate whole blood mefloquine levels (AUC0-7days). Other host-related factors contributed to recrudescence in one case. Amplification of pfmdr1 (increasing of pfmdr1 copy number) is a related molecular marker of artesunate-mefloquine resistance and seems to be a suitable molecular marker to predict occurrence of recrudescence.


Despite the evidence of a low level of a decline in sensitivity of P. falciparum isolates to artemisinins in areas along the Thai-Myanmar border, artemisinin-based combination therapy (ACT) would be expected to remain the key anti-malarial drug for treatment of multidrug resistance P. falciparum. Continued monitoring and active surveillance of clinical efficacy of ACT, including identification of true artemisinin resistant parasites, is required for appropriate implementation of malaria control policy in this area.

Plasmodium falciparum; Drug resistance; Artesunate; Mefloquine; pfmdr1 copy number; in vitro sensitivity