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Evaluation of FRET real-time PCR assay for rapid detection and differentiation of Plasmodium species in returning travellers and migrants

Innocent Safeukui15*, Pascal Millet123, Sébastien Boucher1, Laurence Melinard1, Frédéric Fregeville2, Marie-Catherine Receveur4, Thierry Pistone4, Pierre Fialon2, Philippe Vincendeau12, Hervé Fleury1 and Denis Malvy34

Author Affiliations

1 Pôle de Biologie Moléculaire, CHU de Bordeaux, Hôpital Pellegrin, Place Amélie Raba Léon, 33076 Bordeaux Cedex, France

2 Laboratoire de Parasitologie, CHU de Bordeaux, 1 rue Jean Burguet, 33071 Bordeaux Cedex France

3 Centre René Labusquière, Université Victor Segalen Bordeaux 2,146 rue Léo Saignat, 33076 Bordeaux Cedex, France

4 Travel clinic and Imported Diseases Units, Department of Internal Medicine, University Hospital Centre, 1 rueJean-Burguet, 33071 Bordeaux Cedex, France

5 Safeukui Noubissi Innocent, Institut Pasteur, Unité d'Immunologie Moléculaire des Parasites, URA CNRS 2581, 28 Rue du Dr Roux, 75075 Paris, France

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Malaria Journal 2008, 7:70  doi:10.1186/1475-2875-7-70

Published: 28 April 2008



A simple real-time PCR assay using one set of primer and probe for rapid, sensitive and quantitative detection of Plasmodium species, with simultaneous differentiation of Plasmodium falciparum from the three other Plasmodium species (Plasmodium vivax, Plasmodium ovale and Plasmodium malariae) in febrile returning travellers and migrants was developed and evaluated.


Consensus primers were used to amplify a species-specific region of the multicopy 18S rRNA gene, and fluorescence resonance energy transfer hybridization probes were used for detection in a LightCycler platform (Roche). The anchor probe sequence was designed to be perfect matches to the 18S rRNA gene of the fourth Plasmodium species, while the acceptor probe sequence was designed for P. falciparum over a region containing one mismatched, which allowed differentiation of the three other Plasmodium species. The performance characteristics of the real-time PCR assay were compared with those of conventional PCR and microscopy-based diagnosis from 119 individuals with a suspected clinical diagnostic of imported malaria.


Blood samples with parasite densities less than 0.01% were all detected, and analytical sensitivity was 0.5 parasite per PCR reaction. The melt curve means Tms (standard deviation) in clinical isolates were 60.5°C (0.6°C) for P. falciparum infection and 64.6°C (1.8°C) for non-P. falciparum species. These Tms values of the P. falciparum or non-P. falciparum species did not vary with the geographic origin of the parasite. The real-time PCR results correlated with conventional PCR using both genus-specific (Kappa coefficient: 0.95, 95% confidence interval: 0.9 – 1) or P. falciparum-specific (0.91, 0.8 – 1) primers, or with the microscopy results (0.70, 0.6 – 0.8). The real-time assay was 100% sensitive and specific for differentiation of P. falciparum to non-P. falciparum species, compared with conventional PCR or microscopy. The real-time PCR assay can also detect individuals with mixed infections (P. falciparum and non-P. falciparum sp.) in the same sample.


This real-time PCR assay with melting curve analysis is rapid, and specific for the detection and differentiation of P. falciparum to other Plasmodium species. The suitability for routine use of this assay in clinical diagnostic laboratories is discussed.