Division of Infectious Diseases, Department of Immunology, Microbiology, Pathology and Infectious Diseases, Karolinska Institutet, Huddinge University Hospital, Division of Infectious Diseases, Karolinska Institutet, Danderyd University Hospital, Department of Infection and Tropical Medicine, Imperial College School of Medicine, Northwick Park Hospital, Nyamisati Malaria Research Unit, National Institute of Medical Research, Huddinge, Sweden
Plasmodium falciparum is the major cause of malaria morbidity and mortality in the world. Biologic and antigenic diversity is a characteristic of this parasite and infections can consist of several genetically diverse parasites. The daily dynamics of these parasite subpopulations were investigated in asymptomatic children in rural Tanzania. Fingerprick blood samples were collected on 14 consecutive days from 20 children. Parasite densities were detected by light microscopy and genotyping of P. falciparum was done using a nested polymerase chain reaction (PCR) assay targeting polymorphic regions on the merozoite surface protein-1 (MSP-1), MSP-2, and glutamine-rich protein (GLURP) genes. In the eight children harboring P. falciparum throughout the study period, infections were found to be highly complex with daily changes in both parasite density and genotypic pattern. A nonrandom, 48-hr periodicity in these fluctuations suggests that P. falciparum infections consist of inherently synchronous subpopulations of parasites. These findings have important biologic and epidemiologic implications since one blood sample may only partly reflect the whole parasite population in an infected individual.