Ecology of asynchronous asexual replication: The intraerythrocytic development cycle of Plasmodium berghei is resistant to host rhythms

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

Abstract / Description of output

Daily periodicity in the diverse activities of parasites occurs across a broad taxonomic range. The rhythms exhibited by parasites are thought to be adaptations that allow parasites to cope with, or exploit, the consequences of host activities that follow daily rhythms. Malaria parasites (Plasmodium) are well-known for their synchronized cycles of replication within host red blood cells. Whilst most species of Plasmodium appear sensitive to the timing of the daily rhythms of hosts, and even vectors, some species present no detectable rhythms in blood-stage replication. Why the intraerythrocytic development cycle (IDC) of, for example Plasmodium chabaudi, is governed by host rhythms, yet seems completely independent of host rhythms in Plasmodium berghei, another rodent malaria species, is mysterious.

This study reports a series of five experiments probing the relationships between the asynchronous IDC schedule of P. berghei and the rhythms of hosts and vectors by manipulating host time-of-day, photoperiod and feeding rhythms.

The results reveal that: (i) a lack coordination between host and parasite rhythms does not impose appreciable fitness costs on P. berghei; (ii) the IDC schedule of P. berghei is impervious to host rhythms, including altered photoperiod and host-feeding-related rhythms; (iii) there is weak evidence for daily rhythms in the density and activities of transmission stages; but (iv), these rhythms have little consequence for successful transmission to mosquitoes.

Overall, host rhythms do not affect the performance of P. berghei and its asynchronous IDC is resistant to the scheduling forces that underpin synchronous replication in closely related parasites. This suggests that natural variation in the IDC schedule across species represents different parasite strategies that maximize fitness. Thus, subtle differences in the ecological interactions between parasites and their hosts/vectors may select for the evolution of very different IDC schedules.
Original languageEnglish
Article number105
Number of pages12
JournalMalaria Journal
Early online date19 Feb 2021
Publication statusPublished - 1 Dec 2021

Keywords / Materials (for Non-textual outputs)

  • periodicity
  • synchrony
  • circadian rhythm
  • feeding timing
  • intraerythrocytic development cycle
  • asexual replication
  • gametocyte
  • transmission
  • fitness


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