The rapid and aggressive spread of artemisinin-resistant Plasmodium falciparum carrying the C580Y mutation in the kelch13 gene is a growing threat to malaria elimination in Southeast Asia, but there is no evidence of their spread to other regions. We conducted cross-sectional surveys in 2016 and 2017 at two clinics in Wewak, Papua New Guinea (PNG) where we identified three infections caused by C580Y mutants among 239 genotyped clinical samples. One of these mutants exhibited the highest survival rate (6.8%) among all parasites surveyed in ring-stage survival assays (RSA) for artemisinin.
Over the last decade, artemisinin-based combination therapy (ACT) has contributed substantially to the decrease in malaria-related morbidity and mortality. The emergence of Plasmodium falciparum parasites resistant to artemisinin derivatives in Southeast Asia and the risk of their spread or of local emergence in sub-Saharan Africa are a major threat to public health. This study thus set out to estimate the proportion of P. falciparum isolates, with Pfkelch13 gene mutations associated with artemisinin resistance previously detected in Southeast Asia.
In 2006, the Senegalese National Malaria Control Programme recommended artemisinin-based combination therapy (ACT) with artemether–lumefantrine as the first-line treatment for uncomplicated Plasmodium falciparum malaria. To date, multiple mutations associated with artemisinin delayed parasite clearance have been described in Southeast Asia in the Pfk13 gene, such as Y493H, R539T, I543T and C580Y. Even though ACT remains clinically and parasitologically efficacious in Senegal, the spread of resistance is possible as shown by the earlier emergence of resistance to chloroquine in Southeast Asia that subsequently spread to Africa. Therefore, surveillance of artemisinin resistance in malaria endemic regions is crucial and requires the implementation of sensitive tools, such as next-generation sequencing (NGS) which can detect novel mutations at low frequency.
Increased tolerance of Plasmodium falciparum to front-line artemisinin antimalarials (ARTs) is associated with mutations in Kelch13 (K13), although the precise role of K13 remains unclear. Here, we show that K13 mutations result in decreased expression of this protein, while mislocalization of K13 mimics resistance-conferring mutations, pinpointing partial loss of function of K13 as the relevant molecular event.