Genetic variants in Plasmodium falciparum, a malaria-causing parasite, that are associated with antimalarial drug resistance are reported online in this week's Nature Genetics. This study provides important genetic tools for studying the P. falciparum genome and mechanisms of antimalarial drug resistance.
Every year, malaria affects 300 to 500 million people worldwide and leads to nearly one million deaths. It is caused by Plasmodium parasites, which are transmitted by the Anopheles mosquito. Of the four types of Plasmodium, P. falciparum is the most deadly. Antimalarial drug resistance in P. falciparum parasites has led to the loss of effective drugs in most endemic areas, with some reports of P. falciparum strains that are resistant to all known antimalarial drugs.
Genome-wide studies to find genetic variants associated with antimalarial drugs have been hampered by technical challenges. Here, Xin-zhuan Su and colleagues measured parasite response to seven antimalarial drugs in 185 different P. falciparum isolates from Asia, Africa, America and Papua New Guinea. The authors identify several candidate genes that are associated with antimalarial drug resistance, although further studies are required to learn how these genes contribute to drug resistance.