Each year, approximately 230 million malaria cases and 400,00 malaria deaths are reported worldwide. Malaria is a life-threatening disease caused by Plasmodium parasites that are transmitted from one individual to another through the bites of infected female Anopheles mosquitoes. Malaria parasites replicate asexually in the human host, and, in each replication cycle, a portion of the asexual stages develops into sexual gametocytes that permit transmission. The proportion of infections that carries gametocytes and the infectivity of gametocytes are indicators of human-to-mosquito transmission potential. In P. falciparum, gametocytes appear 10–14 days after infection, whereas in P. vivax gametocytes appear simultaneously with asexual schizonts. Such difference in development not only increases the length of time that an individual is infectious, but also increases the likelihood of transmission before treatment. The conversion from asexual parasites to gametocytes is also highly variable between infections. Differences in age, host immune response, parasite genetic composition, density of red blood cells, presence of co-infecting parasite strains, and antimalarial drug use could affect gametocytes production. In P. vivax, the unique ability to produce hypnozoites, a dormant liver stage of the parasite, may allow gametocytes to be produced periodically from relapse and contribute to transmission. In this chapter, we will provide an overview of the biology of Plasmodium gametocytes, existing tools for gametocyte detection, and features of gametocyte genes. The biological insights and genetic findings are essential to developing better detection biomarkers and effective strategies to reduce transmission in malaria-endemic countries.
Part of the book: Genetic Polymorphisms