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Effects of transmission reduction by insecticide-treated bed nets (ITNs) on parasite genetics population structure: I. The genetic diversity of Plasmodium falciparum parasites by microsatellite markers in western Kenya

Wangeci Gatei12, Simon Kariuki3, William Hawley1, Feiko ter Kuile4, Dianne Terlouw4, Penelope Phillips-Howard35, Bernard Nahlen6, John Gimnig1, Kim Lindblade1, Edward Walker7, Mary Hamel13, Sara Crawford1, John Williamson1, Laurence Slutsker1 and Ya Ping Shi1*

Author Affiliations

1 Malaria Branch, Division of Parasitic Diseases, Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, Atlanta, Georgia, USA

2 Atlanta Research and Education Foundation, Atlanta, GA, USA

3 Center for Global Health Research, Kenya Medical Research Institute, Kisumu, Kenya

4 Liverpool School of Tropical Medicine, Liverpool, UK

5 Centre for Public Health, Liverpool John Moores University, Liverpool, UK

6 President's Malaria Initiative, Washington DC, USA

7 Michigan State University, East Lansing, USA

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Malaria Journal 2010, 9:353  doi:10.1186/1475-2875-9-353

Published: 6 December 2010



Insecticide-treated bed nets (ITNs) reduce malaria transmission and are an important prevention tool. However, there are still information gaps on how the reduction in malaria transmission by ITNs affects parasite genetics population structure. This study examined the relationship between transmission reduction from ITN use and the population genetic diversity of Plasmodium falciparum in an area of high ITN coverage in western Kenya.


Parasite genetic diversity was assessed by scoring eight single copy neutral multilocus microsatellite (MS) markers in samples collected from P. falciparum-infected children (< five years) before introduction of ITNs (1996, baseline, n = 69) and five years after intervention (2001, follow-up, n = 74).


There were no significant changes in overall high mixed infections and unbiased expected heterozygosity between baseline (%MA = 94% and He = 0.75) and follow up (%MA = 95% and He = 0.79) years. However, locus specific analysis detected significant differences for some individual loci between the two time points. Pfg377 loci, a gametocyte-specific MS marker showed significant increase in mixed infections and He in the follow up survey (%MA = 53% and He = 0.57) compared to the baseline (%MA = 30% and He = 0.29). An opposite trend was observed in the erythrocyte binding protein (EBP) MS marker. There was moderate genetic differentiation at the Pfg377 and TAA60 loci (FST = 0.117 and 0.137 respectively) between the baseline and post-ITN parasite populations. Further analysis revealed linkage disequilibrium (LD) of the microsatellites in the baseline (14 significant pair-wise tests and ISA = 0.016) that was broken in the follow up parasite population (6 significant pairs and ISA = 0.0003). The locus specific change in He, the moderate population differentiation and break in LD between the baseline and follow up years suggest an underlying change in population sub-structure despite the stability in the overall genetic diversity and multiple infection levels.


The results from this study suggest that although P. falciparum population maintained an overall stability in genetic diversity after five years of high ITN coverage, there was significant locus specific change associated with gametocytes, marking these for further investigation.