Southeast Asian artemisinin-resistant malaria parasites can infect several local mosquito species, but can also infect a major African species, reports an article published in Nature Communications. The findings indicate that resistance to the antimalarial drug artemisinin, which has so far emerged in Southeast Asia only, can potentially spread to other parts of the world.
The spread of artemisinin-resistant malaria to neighbouring regions and Africa would severely compromise global efforts to eradicate the disease. However, malaria-transmitting Anopheles mosquitoes are highly diverse and it is unknown whether the resistant parasites can infect mosquitoes from other areas.
Rick Fairhurst and colleagues tested whether two Southeast Asian Anopheles species and the African mosquito species, Anopheles coluzzii, became infected after feeding on blood containing any of six artemisinin-resistant and three artemisinin-sensitive parasite strains previously isolated from malaria patients in Cambodia. They found parasites in the mosquitoes’ midguts and the salivary glands in almost all cases, showing that the artemisinin-resistant and -sensitive Cambodian parasites can infect a variety of mosquito species.
The study does not demonstrate that the infected mosquitoes can effectively transmit the disease to humans. Nevertheless, the results support the notion that artemisinin-resistant parasites could potentially spread beyond Cambodia and to Africa, which would pose a significant challenge to malaria eradication.