Derivation of Highly Mefloquine-Resistant Lines from Plasmodium falciparum in vitro

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  • Department of Epidemiology, and Department of Microbiology and Immunology, University of North Carolina, Department of Microbiology, George Washington University, Chapel Hill, Chapel Hill, North Carolina

Serial passage of a multidrug-resistant clone of Plasmodium falciparum in concentrations of mefloquine hydrochloride ranging from 30 to 2,400 ng/ml resulted in the derivation of increasingly resistant parasite lines in vitro. Parasite lines isolated in mefloquine concentrations greater than 300 ng/ml demonstrated increased vacuolization, enhanced pigment production, and increased growth rates as compared with the progenitor clone, W2-mef. Although microdilution incorporation assays demonstrated that the 50% inhibitory concentration (IC50) of mefloquine were similar for all lines, the IC90, IC95, and IC99 levels were significantly increased. Growth rate assays performed in 5% hematocrit suspensions demonstrated different levels of mefloquine resistance among these lines. Under these conditions the most resistant line, Mef 2.4, grew efficiently in approximately 10-fold higher concentrations of mefloquine than the progenitor clone W2-mef. Analysis of drug susceptibility profiles to mefloquine hydrochloride, chloroquine diphosphate, quinine sulfate, and halofantrine hydrochloride indicated that selection for high levels of mefloquine resistance had resulted in significant increases in resistance to halofantrine and increased sensitivity to chloroquine. The phenotypic changes demonstrated in the most resistant line, Mef 2.4, reflect a multidrug resistant-like phenotype, and appear to mimic changes recently reported in drug susceptibility profiles of recrudescent isolates following mefloquine treatment failures in Thailand.