Altered life-history strategies protect malaria parasites against drugs

Philip Birget, Megan Greischar, Sarah Reece, Nicole Mideo

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

Abstract / Description of output

Drug resistance has been reported against all antimalarial drugs, and while parasites can evolve classical resistance mechanisms (e.g., efflux pumps), it is also possible that changes in life history traits could help parasites evade the effects of treatment. The life history of malaria parasites is governed by an intrinsic resource allocation problem: specialized stages are required for transmission, but producing these stages comes at the cost of producing fewer of the forms required for within-host survival. Drug treatment, by design, alters the probability of within-host survival, and so should alter the costs and benefits of investing in transmission. Here, we use a within-host model of malaria infection to predict optimal patterns of investment in transmission in the face of different drug treatment regimes and determine the extent to which alternative patterns of investment can buffer the fitness loss due to drugs. We show that over a range of drug doses, parasites are predicted to adopt \reproductive restraint" (investing more in asexual replication and less in transmission) to maximise fitness. By doing so, parasites recoup some of the fitness loss imposed by drugs, though as may be expected, increasing dose reduces the extent to which altered patterns of transmission investment can benefit parasites. We show that adaptation to drug treated infections could result in more virulent infections in untreated hosts. This work emphasises that in addition to classical resistance mechanisms, drug treatment generates selection for altered parasite life history. Understanding how any shifts in life history will alter the efficacy of drugs, as well as any limitations on such shifts, is important for evaluating and predicting the consequences of drug treatment.
Original languageEnglish
JournalEvolutionary Applications
Early online date24 Jul 2017
Publication statusE-pub ahead of print - 24 Jul 2017

Keywords / Materials (for Non-textual outputs)

  • Plasmodium
  • transmission investment
  • non-classical drug resistance
  • life history evolution
  • pyrimethamine


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