Evidence of a Mild Mutator Phenotype in Cambodian Plasmodium falciparum Malaria Parasites

Lee, Andrew H.; Fidock, David Armand

Malaria control efforts have been continuously stymied by drug-resistant strains of Plasmodium falciparum, which typically originate in Southeast Asia prior to spreading into high-transmission settings in Africa. One earlier proposed explanation for Southeast Asia being a hotbed of resistance has been the hypermutability or “Accelerated Resistance to Multiple Drugs” (ARMD) phenotype, whereby multidrug-resistant Southeast Asian parasites were reported to exhibit 1,000-fold higher rates of resistance to unrelated antimalarial agents when compared to drug-sensitive parasites. However, three recent studies do not recapitulate this hypermutability phenotype. Intriguingly, genome sequencing of recently derived multidrug-resistant Cambodian isolates has identified a high proportion of DNA repair gene mutations in multidrug-resistant parasites, suggesting their potential role in shaping local parasite evolution. By adapting fluctuation assays for use in P. falciparum, we have examined the in vitro mutation rates of five recent Cambodian isolates and three reference laboratory strains. For these studies we also generated a knockout parasite line lacking the DNA repair factor Exonuclease I. In these assays, parasites were typed for their ability to acquire resistance to KAE609, currently in advanced clinical trials, yielding 13 novel mutations in the Na+/H+-ATPase PfATP4, the primary resistance determinant. We observed no evidence of hypermutability. Instead, we found evidence of a mild mutator (up to a 3.4-fold increase in mutation rate) phenotype in two artemisinin-resistant Cambodian isolates, which carry DNA repair gene mutations. We observed that one such mutation in the Mismatch Repair protein Mlh1 contributes to the mild mutator phenotype when modeled in yeast (scmlh1-P157S). Compared to basal rates of mutation, a mild mutator phenotype may provide a greater overall benefit for parasites in Southeast Asia in terms of generating drug resistance without incurring detrimental fitness costs.


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Microbiology and Immunology
Public Library of Science
Published Here
May 26, 2016