Circadian clocks coordinate organisms’ activities with daily cycles in their environment. Parasites are subject to daily rhythms in the within-host environment, resulting from clock-control of host behaviours and physiologies, including immune responses. Parasites also exhibit rhythms in within-host activities; the timing of host feeding sets the timing of the within-host replication of malaria parasites. Why host feeding matters to parasites and how coordination with feeding is achieved are unknown. Determining whether parasites coordinate with clock-driven food-related rhythms of their hosts matters because rhythmic replication underpins disease symptoms and fuels transmission.
We find that parasite rhythms became coordinated with the time of day that hosts feed in both wild type and clock-mutant mice, whereas parasite rhythmicity was lost in clock-mutant mice that fed continuously. These patterns occurred regardless of whether infections were initiated with synchronous or with desynchronised parasites.
Malaria parasite rhythms are not driven by canonical clock-controlled host rhythms. Instead, we propose parasites coordinate with a temporally-restricted nutrient that becomes available through host digestion or are influenced by a separate clock-independent host process that directly responds to feeding. Thus, interventions could disrupt parasite rhythms to reduce their fitness, without interference by host clock-controlled-homeostasis.
O'Donnell, Aidan; Prior, KF; Reece, Sarah E. (2019). Host circadian clocks do not set the schedule for the within-host replication of malaria parasites, [dataset]. University of Edinburgh. School of Biological Sciences.