Intrinsic multiplication rate variation and plasticity of human blood stage malaria parasites
Stewart LB., Diaz-Ingelmo O., Claessens A., Abugri J., Pearson RD., Goncalves S., Drury E., Kwiatkowski DP., Awandare GA., Conway DJ.
<jats:title>Abstract</jats:title> <jats:p>Pathogen multiplication rate is theoretically an important determinant of virulence, although often poorly understood and difficult to measure accurately. We show intrinsic asexual blood stage multiplication rate variation of the major human malaria parasite <jats:italic>Plasmodium falciparum</jats:italic> to be associated with blood-stage infection intensity in patients. A panel of clinical isolates from a highly endemic West African population was analysed repeatedly during five months of continuous laboratory culture, showing a range of exponential multiplication rates at all timepoints tested, mean rates increasing over time. All isolates had different genome sequences, many containing within-isolate diversity that decreased over time in culture, but increases in multiplication rates were not primarily attributable to genomic selection. New mutants, including premature stop codons emerging in a few isolates, did not attain sufficiently high frequencies to substantially affect overall multiplication rates. Significantly, multiplication rate variation among the isolates at each of the assayed culture timepoints robustly correlated with parasite levels seen in patients at clinical presentation, indicating innate parasite control of multiplication rate that contributes to virulence.</jats:p>