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1.  First case of detection of Plasmodium knowlesi in Spain by Real Time PCR in a traveller from Southeast Asia 
Malaria Journal  2010;9:219.
Previously, Plasmodium knowlesi was not considered as a species of Plasmodium that could cause malaria in human beings, as it is parasite of long-tailed (Macaca fascicularis) and pig-tailed (Macaca nemestrina) macaques found in Southeast Asia. A case of infection by P. knowlesi is described in a Spanish traveller, who came back to Spain with daily fever after his last overseas travel, which was a six-month holiday in forested areas of Southeast Asia between 2008 and 2009. His P. knowlesi infection was detected by multiplex Real time quantitative PCR and confirmed by sequencing the amplified fragment. Using nested multiplex malaria PCR (reference method in Spain) and a rapid diagnostic test, the P. knowlesi infection was negative. This patient was discharged and asymptomatic when the positive result to P. knowlesi was reported. Prior to this case, there have been two more reports of European travellers with malaria caused by P. knowlesi, a Finnish man who travelled to Peninsular Malaysia during four weeks in March 2007, and a Swedish man who did a short visit to Malaysian Borneo in October 2006. Taken together with this report of P. knowlesi infection in a Spanish traveller returning from Southeast Asia, this is the third case of P. knowlesi infection in Europe, indicating that this simian parasite can infect visitors to endemic areas in Southeast Asia. This last European case is quite surprising, given that it is an untreated-symptomatic P. knowlesi in human, in contrast to what is currently known about P. knowlesi infection. Most previous reports of human P. knowlesi malaria infections were in adults, often with symptoms and relatively high parasite densities, up to the recent report in Ninh Thuan province, located in the southern part of central Vietnam, inhabited mainly by the Ra-glai ethnic minority, in which all P. knowlesi infections were asymptomatic, co-infected with P. malariae, with low parasite densities and two of the three identified cases were very young children under five years old.
PMCID: PMC2921078  PMID: 20663184
2.  Plasmodium knowlesi Malaria in Humans and Macaques, Thailand 
Emerging Infectious Diseases  2011;17(10):1799-1806.
This parasite may be transmitted from macaques to humans.
Naturally acquired human infections with Plasmodium knowlesi are endemic to Southeast Asia. To determine the prevalence of P. knowlesi malaria in malaria-endemic areas of Thailand, we analyzed genetic characteristics of P. knowlesi circulating among naturally infected macaques and humans. This study in 2008–2009 and retrospective analysis of malaria species in human blood samples obtained in 1996 from 1 of these areas showed that P. knowlesi accounted for 0.67% and 0.48% of human malaria cases, respectively, indicating that this simian parasite is not a newly emergent human pathogen in Thailand. Sequence analysis of the complete merozoite surface protein 1 gene of P. knowlesi from 10 human and 5 macaque blood samples showed considerable genetic diversity among isolates. The sequence from 1 patient was identical with that from a pig-tailed macaque living in the same locality, suggesting cross-transmission of P. knowlesi from naturally infected macaques to humans.
PMCID: PMC3310673  PMID: 22000348
malaria; epidemiology; Plasmodium knowlesi; parasites; mixed-species malaria infection; Thailand; merozoite surface protein 1; small subunit ribosomal RNA; cross-transmission; humans; macaques; research
3.  Plasmodium knowlesi: Reservoir Hosts and Tracking the Emergence in Humans and Macaques 
PLoS Pathogens  2011;7(4):e1002015.
Plasmodium knowlesi, a malaria parasite originally thought to be restricted to macaques in Southeast Asia, has recently been recognized as a significant cause of human malaria. Unlike the benign and morphologically similar P. malariae, these parasites can lead to fatal infections. Malaria parasites, including P. knowlesi, have not yet been detected in macaques of the Kapit Division of Malaysian Borneo, where the majority of human knowlesi malaria cases have been reported. In order to extend our understanding of the epidemiology and evolutionary history of P. knowlesi, we examined 108 wild macaques for malaria parasites and sequenced the circumsporozoite protein (csp) gene and mitochondrial (mt) DNA of P. knowlesi isolates derived from macaques and humans. We detected five species of Plasmodium (P. knowlesi, P. inui, P. cynomolgi, P. fieldi and P. coatneyi) in the long-tailed and pig-tailed macaques, and an extremely high prevalence of P. inui and P. knowlesi. Macaques had a higher number of P. knowlesi genotypes per infection than humans, and some diverse alleles of the P. knowlesi csp gene and certain mtDNA haplotypes were shared between both hosts. Analyses of DNA sequence data indicate that there are no mtDNA lineages associated exclusively with either host. Furthermore, our analyses of the mtDNA data reveal that P. knowlesi is derived from an ancestral parasite population that existed prior to human settlement in Southeast Asia, and underwent significant population expansion approximately 30,000–40,000 years ago. Our results indicate that human infections with P. knowlesi are not newly emergent in Southeast Asia and that knowlesi malaria is primarily a zoonosis with wild macaques as the reservoir hosts. However, ongoing ecological changes resulting from deforestation, with an associated increase in the human population, could enable this pathogenic species of Plasmodium to switch to humans as the preferred host.
Author Summary
We recently described the first focus of human infections with P. knowlesi, a malaria parasite of monkeys, and subsequently reported that these infections can be fatal. Whether mosquito transmission of infection depended on the monkey reservoir or was maintained by the human population was unknown. In the area of highest human infection incidence (within the Kapit Division of Sarawak, Malaysian Borneo), we surveyed 108 wild monkeys and found most were infected with malaria parasites, including P. knowlesi. We observed that the number of P. knowlesi genotypes per infection was much higher in monkeys than humans, some genotypes were shared between the two hosts and no major types were associated exclusively with either host. Evolutionary analyses of sequence data indicate that P. knowlesi existed in monkeys prior to human settlement in Southeast Asia and underwent a recent population expansion. Thus, P. knowlesi is essentially zoonotic; humans being infected with these parasites from the original and reservoir monkey hosts probably since they first entered the forests of Southeast Asia. We consider that the current increase in the human population, coupled with ecological changes due to deforestation, could result in a switch to humans as the preferred host for this pathogenic Plasmodium species.
PMCID: PMC3072369  PMID: 21490952
4.  Morphological features and differential counts of Plasmodium knowlesi parasites in naturally acquired human infections 
Malaria Journal  2009;8:73.
Human infections with Plasmodium knowlesi, a simian malaria parasite, are more common than previously thought. They have been detected by molecular detection methods in various countries in Southeast Asia, where they were initially diagnosed by microscopy mainly as Plasmodium malariae and at times, as Plasmodium falciparum. There is a paucity of information on the morphology of P. knowlesi parasites and proportion of each erythrocytic stage in naturally acquired human infections. Therefore, detailed descriptions of the morphological characteristics and differential counts of the erythrocytic stages of P. knowlesi parasites in human infections were made, photographs were taken, and morphological features were compared with those of P. malariae and P. falciparum.
Thick and thin blood films were made prior to administration of anti-malarial treatment in patients who were subsequently confirmed as having single species knowlesi infections by PCR assays. Giemsa-stained blood films, prepared from 10 randomly selected patients with a parasitaemia ranging from 610 to 236,000 parasites per μl blood, were examined.
The P. knowlesi infection was highly synchronous in only one patient, where 97% of the parasites were at the late trophozoite stage. Early, late and mature trophozoites and schizonts were observed in films from all patients except three; where schizonts and early trophozoites were absent in two and one patient, respectively. Gametocytes were observed in four patients, comprising only between 1.2 to 2.8% of infected erythrocytes. The early trophozoites of P. knowlesi morphologically resemble those of P. falciparum. The late and mature trophozoites, schizonts and gametocytes appear very similar to those of P. malariae. Careful examinations revealed that some minor morphological differences existed between P. knowlesi and P. malariae. These include trophozoites of knowlesi with double chromatin dots and at times with two or three parasites per erythrocyte and mature schizonts of P. knowlesi having 16 merozoites, compared with 12 for P. malariae.
Plasmodium knowlesi infections in humans are not highly synchronous. The morphological resemblance of early trophozoites of P. knowlesi to P. falciparum and later erythrocytic stages to P. malariae makes it extremely difficult to identify P. knowlesi infections by microscopy alone.
PMCID: PMC2676309  PMID: 19383118
5.  Plasmodium cynomolgi genome sequences provide insight into Plasmodium vivax and the monkey malaria clade 
Nature genetics  2012;44(9):1051-1055.
Plasmodium cynomolgi, a malaria parasite of Asian Old World monkeys, is the sister taxon of Plasmodium vivax, the most prevalent human malaria species outside Africa. Since P. cynomolgi shares many phenotypic, biologic and genetic characteristics of P. vivax, we generated draft genome sequences of three P. cynomolgi strains and performed comparative genomic analysis between them and P. vivax, as well as a third previously sequenced simian parasite, Plasmodium knowlesi. Here we show that genomes of the monkey malaria clade can be characterized by CNVs in multigene families involved in evasion of the human immune system and invasion of host erythrocytes. We identify genome-wide SNPs, microsatellites, and CNVs in the P. cynomolgi genome, providing a map of genetic variation for mapping parasite traits and studying parasite populations. The P. cynomolgi genome is a critical step in developing a model system for P. vivax research, and to counteract the neglect of P. vivax.
PMCID: PMC3759362  PMID: 22863735
6.  Human Infections and Detection of Plasmodium knowlesi 
Clinical Microbiology Reviews  2013;26(2):165-184.
Plasmodium knowlesi is a malaria parasite that is found in nature in long-tailed and pig-tailed macaques. Naturally acquired human infections were thought to be extremely rare until a large focus of human infections was reported in 2004 in Sarawak, Malaysian Borneo. Human infections have since been described throughout Southeast Asia, and P. knowlesi is now recognized as the fifth species of Plasmodium causing malaria in humans. The molecular, entomological, and epidemiological data indicate that human infections with P. knowlesi are not newly emergent and that knowlesi malaria is primarily a zoonosis. Human infections were undiagnosed until molecular detection methods that could distinguish P. knowlesi from the morphologically similar human malaria parasite P. malariae became available. P. knowlesi infections cause a spectrum of disease and are potentially fatal, but if detected early enough, infections in humans are readily treatable. In this review on knowlesi malaria, we describe the early studies on P. knowlesi and focus on the epidemiology, diagnosis, clinical aspects, and treatment of knowlesi malaria. We also discuss the gaps in our knowledge and the challenges that lie ahead in studying the epidemiology and pathogenesis of knowlesi malaria and in the prevention and control of this zoonotic infection.
PMCID: PMC3623376  PMID: 23554413
7.  Knowlesi malaria: newly emergent and of public health importance? 
Trends in parasitology  2008;24(9):406-410.
Several questions on public health impact have arisen from the discovery of a large focus of the simian malaria parasite, Plasmodium knowlesi, in the human population. P. knowlesi malaria is not newly emergent and was overlooked until molecular tools to distinguish between P. knowlesi and the morphologically similar Plasmodium malariae became available. Knowlesi malaria is a zoonosis that is widely distributed in Southeast Asia and can be fatal. Information on knowlesi malaria should be included in medical and public health guidelines to encourage the accurate diagnosis and treatment of patients, and monitor the incidence and distribution of cases. A complete emergence of P. knowlesi into the human population could be overwhelming and, although challenging, the prevention of this situation deserves serious consideration.
PMCID: PMC2843823  PMID: 18678527
8.  Characterization and tissue-specific expression patterns of the Plasmodium chabaudi cir multigene family 
Malaria Journal  2011;10:272.
Variant antigens expressed on the surface of parasitized red blood cells (pRBCs) are important virulence factors of malaria parasites. Whereas Plasmodium falciparum erythrocyte membrane proteins 1 (PfEMP1) are responsible for sequestration of mature parasites, little is known about putative ligands mediating cytoadherence to host receptors in other Plasmodium species. Candidates include members of the pir superfamily found in the human parasite Plasmodium vivax (vir), in the simian pathogen Plasmodium knowlesi (kir) and in the rodent malarias Plasmodium yoelii (yir), Plasmodium berghei (bir) and Plasmodium chabaudi (cir). The aim of this study was to reveal a potential involvement of cir genes in P. chabaudi sequestration.
Subfamilies of cir genes were identified by bioinformatic analyses of annotated sequence data in the Plasmodium Genome Database. In order to examine tissue-specific differences in the expression of cir mRNAs, RT-PCR with subfamily-specific primers was used. In total, 432 cDNA clones derived from six different tissues were sequenced to characterize the transcribed cir gene repertoire. To confirm differences in transcription profiles of cir genes, restriction fragment length polymorphism (RFLP) analyses were performed to compare different host tissues and to identify changes during the course of P. chabaudi infections in immunocompetent mice.
The phylogenetic analysis of annotated P. chabaudi putative CIR proteins identified two major subfamilies. Comparison of transcribed cir genes from six different tissues revealed significant differences in the frequency clones belonging to individual cir gene subgroups were obtained from different tissues. Further hints of difference in the transcription of cir genes in individual tissues were obtained by RFLP. Whereas only minimal changes in the transcription pattern of cir genes could be detected during the developmental cycle of the parasites, switching to expression of other cir genes during the course of an infection was observed around or after peak parasitemia.
The tissue-specific expression of cir mRNAs found in this study indicates correlation between expression of CIR antigens and distribution of parasites in inner organs. Together with comparable results for other members of the pir superfamily this suggests a role of cir and other pir genes in antigenic variation and sequestration of malaria parasites.
PMCID: PMC3189184  PMID: 21929749
9.  Increasing Incidence of Plasmodium knowlesi Malaria following Control of P. falciparum and P. vivax Malaria in Sabah, Malaysia 
The simian parasite Plasmodium knowlesi is a common cause of human malaria in Malaysian Borneo and threatens the prospect of malaria elimination. However, little is known about the emergence of P. knowlesi, particularly in Sabah. We reviewed Sabah Department of Health records to investigate the trend of each malaria species over time.
Reporting of microscopy-diagnosed malaria cases in Sabah is mandatory. We reviewed all available Department of Health malaria notification records from 1992–2011. Notifications of P. malariae and P. knowlesi were considered as a single group due to microscopic near-identity.
From 1992–2011 total malaria notifications decreased dramatically, with P. falciparum peaking at 33,153 in 1994 and decreasing 55-fold to 605 in 2011, and P. vivax peaking at 15,857 in 1995 and decreasing 25-fold to 628 in 2011. Notifications of P. malariae/P. knowlesi also demonstrated a peak in the mid-1990s (614 in 1994) before decreasing to ≈100/year in the late 1990s/early 2000s. However, P. malariae/P. knowlesi notifications increased >10-fold between 2004 (n = 59) and 2011 (n = 703). In 1992 P. falciparum, P. vivax and P. malariae/P. knowlesi monoinfections accounted for 70%, 24% and 1% respectively of malaria notifications, compared to 30%, 31% and 35% in 2011. The increase in P. malariae/P. knowlesi notifications occurred state-wide, appearing to have begun in the southwest and progressed north-easterly.
A significant recent increase has occurred in P. knowlesi notifications following reduced transmission of the human Plasmodium species, and this trend threatens malaria elimination. Determination of transmission dynamics and risk factors for knowlesi malaria is required to guide measures to control this rising incidence.
Author Summary
The simian parasite Plasmodium knowlesi is a common cause of malaria in Malaysian Borneo; however, little is known about its emergence over time, particularly in Sabah. We reviewed all available Sabah Department of health malaria notification records from 1992–2011, and considered notifications of P. malariae and P. knowlesi as a single group due to their microscopic similarity. We found that malaria notifications in Sabah have decreased dramatically, with P. falciparum and P. vivax notifications peaking at 33,153 and 15,877 respectively during 1994–1995, and falling to 605 and 628 respectively in 2011. Notifications of P. malariae/P. knowlesi fell from a peak of 614 in 1994 to ≈100/year in the late 1990s/early 2000s, however increased >10-fold between 2004 (n = 59) and 2011 (n = 703). In 1992 P. falciparum, P. vivax and P. malariae/P. knowlesi monoinfections accounted for 70%, 24% and 1% respectively of malaria notifications, compared to 30%, 31% and 35% in 2011. The increase in P. malariae/P. knowlesi notifications occurred state-wide, appearing to have begun in the southwest and progressed north-easterly. This significant recent increase in P. knowlesi notifications following reduced transmission of the human Plasmodium species threatens malaria elimination; further research is required to determine transmission dynamics and risk factors for knowlesi malaria.
PMCID: PMC3554533  PMID: 23359830
10.  Evaluation of three rapid diagnostic tests for the detection of human infections with Plasmodium knowlesi 
Malaria Journal  2014;13:60.
Plasmodium knowlesi, a malaria parasite of Southeast Asian macaques, infects humans and can cause fatal malaria. It is difficult to diagnose by microscopy because of morphological similarity to Plasmodium malariae. Nested PCR assay is the most accurate method to distinguish P. knowlesi from other Plasmodium species but is not cost effective in resource-poor settings. Rapid diagnostic tests (RDTs) are recommended for settings where malaria is prevalent. In this study, the effectiveness of three RDTs in detecting P. knowlesi from fresh and frozen patient blood samples was evaluated.
Forty malaria patients (28 P. knowlesi, ten P. vivax and two P. falciparum) diagnosed by microscopy were recruited in Sarawak, Malaysian Borneo during a 16-month period. Patient blood samples were used to determine parasitaemia by microscopy, confirm the Plasmodium species present by PCR and evaluate three RDTs: OptiMAL-IT, BinaxNOW® Malaria and Paramax-3. The RDTs were also evaluated using frozen blood samples from 41 knowlesi malaria patients.
OptiMAL-IT was the most sensitive RDT, with a sensitivity of 71% (20/28; 95% CI = 54-88%) for fresh and 73% (30/41; 95% CI = 59-87%) for frozen knowlesi samples. However, it yielded predominantly falciparum-positive results due to cross-reactivity of the P. falciparum test reagent with P. knowlesi. BinaxNOW® Malaria correctly detected non-P. falciparum malaria in P. knowlesi samples but was the least sensitive, detecting only 29% (8/28; 95% CI = 12-46%) of fresh and 24% (10/41; 95% CI = 11-37%) of frozen samples. The Paramax-3 RDT tested positive for P. vivax with PCR-confirmed P. knowlesi samples with sensitivities of 40% (10/25; 95% CI = 21-59%) with fresh and 32% (13/41; 95% CI = 17-46%) with frozen samples. All RDTs correctly identified P. falciparum- and P. vivax-positive controls with parasitaemias above 2,000 parasites/μl blood.
The RDTs detected Plasmodium in P. knowlesi-infected blood samples with poor sensitivity and specificity. Patients with P. knowlesi could be misdiagnosed as P. falciparum with OptiMAL-IT, P. vivax with Paramax-3 and more correctly as non-P. vivax/non-P. falciparum with BinaxNOW® Malaria. There is a need for a sensitive and specific RDT for malaria diagnosis in settings where P. knowlesi infections predominate.
PMCID: PMC3931291  PMID: 24548805
Plasmodium knowlesi; Malaria diagnostics; Rapid diagnostic tests
11.  Clinical and Laboratory Features of Human Plasmodium knowlesi Infection 
Plasmodium knowlesi is increasingly recognized as a cause of human malaria in Southeast Asia but there are no detailed prospective clinical studies of naturally acquired infections.
In a systematic study of the presentation and course of patients with acute P. knowlesi infection, clinical and laboratory data were collected from previously untreated, nonpregnant adults admitted to the hospital with polymerase chain reaction–confirmed acute malaria at Kapit Hospital (Sarawak, Malaysia) from July 2006 through February 2008.
Of 152 patients recruited, 107 (70%) had P. knowlesi infection, 24 (16%) had Plasmodium falciparum infection, and 21 (14%) had Plasmodium vivax. Patients with P. knowlesi infection presented with a nonspecific febrile illness, had a baseline median parasitemia value at hospital admission of 1387 parasites/μL (interquartile range, 6–222,570 parasites/μL), and all were thrombocytopenic at hospital admission or on the following day. Most (93.5%) of the patients with P. knowlesi infection had uncomplicated malaria that responded to chloroquine and primaquine treatment. Based on World Health Organization criteria for falciparum malaria, 7 patients with P. knowlesi infection (6.5%) had severe infections at hospital admission. The most frequent complication was respiratory distress, which was present at hospital admission in 4 patients and developed after admission in an additional 3 patients. P. knowlesi parasitemia at hospital admission was an independent determinant of respiratory distress, as were serum creatinine level, serum bilirubin, and platelet count at admission (P < .002 for each). Two patients with knowlesi malaria died, representing a case fatality rate of 1.8% (95% confidence interval, 0.2%–6.6%).
Knowlesi malaria causes a wide spectrum of disease. Most cases are uncomplicated and respond promptly to treatment, but approximately 1 in 10 patients develop potentially fatal complications.
PMCID: PMC2843824  PMID: 19635025
12.  Centenary celebrations article 
The identification of a large focus of Plasmodium knowlesi in Malaysian Borneo and subsequent reports from several countries in South-east Asia has led its recognition as the fifth human malaria parasite. The natural preferred hosts of this species still continue to be macaque monkeys that live in broad-leaf rain forests. This review describes the distribution of macaque monkeys, the Anopheles species belonging to the Leucosphyrus Group that have been incriminated as vectors, morphological and clinical features of this parasite, and the transmission cycles that have been identified for this parasite. As the North-eastern states of India share their borders with P. knowlesi malaria endemic countries and because travelers from countries in South-east Asia visit India and vice versa, risks of this parasite entering India and its spread are also discussed.
PMCID: PMC3235381  PMID: 23024487
Plasmodium knowlesi; Macaque monkeys; Leucosphyrus group; Anopheles species; India; South-east Asia
13.  Modelling knowlesi malaria transmission in humans: vector preference and host competence 
Malaria Journal  2010;9:329.
Plasmodium knowlesi, a malaria species that normally infects long-tailed macaques, was recently found to be prevalent in humans in Southeast Asia. While human host competency has been demonstrated experimentally, the extent to which the parasite can be transmitted from human back to mosquito vector in nature is unclear.
Using a mathematical model, the influence of human host competency on disease transmission is assessed. Adapting a standard model for vector-borne disease transmission and using an evolutionary invasion analysis, the paper explores how differential host competency between humans and macaques can facilitate the epidemiological processes of P. knowlesi infection between different hosts.
Following current understanding of the evolutionary route of other human malaria vectors and parasites, an increasing human population in knowlesi malaria endemic regions will select for a more anthropophilic vector as well as a parasite that preferentially transmits between humans. Applying these adaptations, evolutionary invasion analysis yields threshold conditions under which this macaque disease may become a significant public health issue.
These threshold conditions are discussed in the context of malaria vector-parasite co-evolution as a function of anthropogenic effects.
PMCID: PMC2996403  PMID: 21080968
14.  First case of a naturally acquired human infection with Plasmodium cynomolgi 
Malaria Journal  2014;13:68.
Since 1960, a total of seven species of monkey malaria have been reported as transmissible to man by mosquito bite: Plasmodium cynomolgi, Plasmodium brasilianum, Plasmodium eylesi, Plasmodium knowlesi, Plasmodium inui, Plasmodium schwetzi and Plasmodium simium. With the exception of P. knowlesi, none of the other species has been found to infect humans in nature. In this report, it is described the first known case of a naturally acquired P. cynomolgi malaria in humans.
The patient was a 39-year-old woman from a malaria-free area with no previous history of malaria or travel to endemic areas. Initially, malaria was diagnosed and identified as Plasmodium malariae/P. knowlesi by microscopy in the Terengganu State Health Department. Thick and thin blood films stained with 10% Giemsa were performed for microscopy examination. Molecular species identification was performed at the Institute for Medical Research (IMR, Malaysia) and in the Malaria & Emerging Parasitic Diseases Laboratory (MAPELAB, Spain) using different nested PCR methods.
Microscopic re-examination in the IMR showed characteristics of Plasmodium vivax and was confirmed by a nested PCR assay developed by Snounou et al. Instead, a different PCR assay plus sequencing performed at the MAPELAB confirmed that the patient was infected with P. cynomolgi and not with P. vivax.
This is the first report of human P. cynomolgi infection acquired in a natural way, but there might be more undiagnosed or misdiagnosed cases, since P. cynomolgi is morphologically indistinguishable from P. vivax, and one of the most used PCR methods for malaria infection detection may identify a P. cynomolgi infection as P. vivax.
Simian Plasmodium species may routinely infect humans in Southeast Asia. New diagnostic methods are necessary to distinguish between the human and monkey malaria species. Further epidemiological studies, incriminating also the mosquito vector(s), must be performed to know the relevance of cynomolgi malaria and its implication on human public health and in the control of human malaria.
The zoonotic malaria cannot be ignored in view of increasing interactions between man and wild animals in the process of urbanization.
PMCID: PMC3937822  PMID: 24564912
Plasmodium vivax; Plasmodium cynomolgi; Molecular methods; Malaysia; Simian malaria
15.  The reticulocyte binding-like proteins of P. knowlesi locate to the micronemes of merozoites and define two new members of this invasion ligand family 
Members of the Reticulocyte Binding Protein-like (RBL) family are merozoite-expressed proteins hypothesized to be essential for effective invasion of host erythrocytes. Proteins of the RBL family were first defined as merozoite invasion ligands in Plasmodium vivax, and subsequently in P. falciparum and other malaria parasite species. Comparative studies are providing insights regarding the complexity and evolution of this family and the existence of possible functionally alternative members. Here, we report the experimental and bioinformatic characterization of two new rbl genes in the simian malaria parasite species P. knowlesi. Experimental analyses confirm that a P. knowlesi gene fragment orthologous to P. vivax reticulocyte binding protein-1 (pvrbp1) represents a highly degenerated pseudogene in the H strain as well as two other P. knowlesi strains. Our data also confirms that a gene orthologous to pvrbp2 is not present in the P. knowlesi genome. However, two very diverse but related functional rbl genes are present and are reported here as P. knowlesi normocyte binding protein Xa and Xb (pknbpxa and pknbpxb). Analysis of these two rbl genes in Southern hybridizations and BLAST searches established their relationship to newly identified members of the RBL family in P. vivax and other species of simian malaria. Rabbit antisera specific for recombinant PkNBPXa and PkNBPXb confirmed expression of the prospective high molecular weight proteins and localized these proteins to the apical end of merozoites. Their precise location, as determined by immuno-electron microscopy (IEM), was found to be within the microneme organelles. Importantly, PkNBPXa and PkNBPXb are shown here to bind to host erythrocytes, and discussion is centered on the importance of these proteins in host cell invasion.
PMCID: PMC2752447  PMID: 19428658
Plasmodium knowlesi; malaria; merozoite invasion; reticulocyte binding proteins; erythrocytes; apicomplexa
16.  Anti-Inflammatory Cytokines Predominate in Acute Human Plasmodium knowlesi Infections 
PLoS ONE  2011;6(6):e20541.
Plasmodium knowlesi has entered the human population of Southeast Asia. Naturally acquired knowlesi malaria is newly described with relatively little available data, including data on the host response to infection. Therefore pre-treatment cytokine and chemokine profiles were determined for 94 P. knowlesi, and for comparison, 20, P. vivax and 22 P. falciparum, patients recruited in Malaysian Borneo. Nine, five and one patient with P. knowlesi, P. falciparum and P. vivax respectively had complicated malaria as defined by World Health Organisation. Patients with uncomplicated P. knowlesi had lower levels of the pro-inflammatory cytokines IL-8 and TNFα than those with complicated disease (both p<0.05, Dunn's post test, DPT). The anti-inflammatory cytokines IL-1ra and IL-10 were detected in all patients in the study. IL-1ra, the most abundant cytokine measured, correlated with parasitaemia in P. knowlesi (rs = 0.47, p =  <0.0001), P. vivax (rs = 0.61, p = 0.0042) and P. falciparum (rs = 0.57,p = 0.0054) malaria. IL-10 correlated with parasitaemia in both P. knowlesi (rs = 0.54, p =  <0.0001) and P. vivax (rs = 0.78, p =  <0.0001) infections. There were between group differences in soluble markers of macrophage activation (MIP-1β and MCP-1). P. knowlesi patients had significantly lower levels of MIP-1β than P. falciparum (DPT, p =  <0.01). Uncomplicated P. knowlesi patients had significantly lower levels of MCP-1 than uncomplicated P. falciparum patients (DPT, p =  <0.001). There was no significant difference between complicated and uncomplicated P. knowlesi infections. MCP-1, MIP-1β, IL-8 and TNFα increased in complicated P. knowlesi but decreased in complicated P. falciparum infections. Descriptions of human knowlesi malaria provide a comparative means to discover mediators of pathophysiology in severe P. knowlesi as well as P. falciparum malaria. Crucially, P. knowlesi may be the disease and experimental primate model for severe malaria.
PMCID: PMC3110641  PMID: 21687657
17.  Transfection of the Primate Malaria Parasite Plasmodium knowlesi Using Entirely Heterologous Constructs 
The Journal of Experimental Medicine  1997;185(8):1499-1504.
The recently developed transfection systems for Plasmodium berghei and Plasmodium falciparum offer important new tools enabling further insight into the biology of malaria parasites. These systems rely upon artificial parasite–host combinations which do not allow investigation into the complex interactions between parasites and their natural hosts. Here we report on stable transfection of Plasmodium knowlesi (a primate malaria parasite that clusters phylogenetically with P. vivax) for which both natural and artificial experimental hosts are available. Transfection of this parasite offers the opportunity to further analyze the biology of antigens not only in a natural host but also in hosts that are closely related to humans. To facilitate future development of integration-dependent transfection in P. knowlesi, completely heterologous plasmids that would reduce homologous recombination at unwanted sites in the genome were constructed. These plasmids contained the pyrimethamine-resistant form of dihydrofolate reductase-thymidylate synthase (dhfr-ts) from Toxoplasma gondii or P. berghei, under control of either (a) P. berghei or (b) P. falciparum promoters. Plasmids were electroporated into mature P. knowlesi schizonts and these cells were injected into rhesus monkeys (Macaca mulatta). After pyrimethamine treatment of these monkeys, resistant parasites were obtained that contained the plasmids. Promoter regions of both P. berghei and P. falciparum controlling dhfr-ts expression were effective in conferring pyrimethamine resistance in P. knowlesi, indicating that common signals control gene expression in phylogenetically distant Plasmodium species.
PMCID: PMC2196274  PMID: 9126931
18.  A New Single-Step PCR Assay for the Detection of the Zoonotic Malaria Parasite Plasmodium knowlesi 
PLoS ONE  2012;7(2):e31848.
Recent studies in Southeast Asia have demonstrated substantial zoonotic transmission of Plasmodium knowlesi to humans. Microscopically, P. knowlesi exhibits several stage-dependent morphological similarities to P. malariae and P. falciparum. These similarities often lead to misdiagnosis of P. knowlesi as either P. malariae or P. falciparum and PCR-based molecular diagnostic tests are required to accurately detect P. knowlesi in humans. The most commonly used PCR test has been found to give false positive results, especially with a proportion of P. vivax isolates. To address the need for more sensitive and specific diagnostic tests for the accurate diagnosis of P. knowlesi, we report development of a new single-step PCR assay that uses novel genomic targets to accurately detect this infection.
Methodology and Significant Findings
We have developed a bioinformatics approach to search the available malaria parasite genome database for the identification of suitable DNA sequences relevant for molecular diagnostic tests. Using this approach, we have identified multi-copy DNA sequences distributed in the P. knowlesi genome. We designed and tested several novel primers specific to new target sequences in a single-tube, non-nested PCR assay and identified one set of primers that accurately detects P. knowlesi. We show that this primer set has 100% specificity for the detection of P. knowlesi using three different strains (Nuri, H, and Hackeri), and one human case of malaria caused by P. knowlesi. This test did not show cross reactivity with any of the four human malaria parasite species including 11 different strains of P. vivax as well as 5 additional species of simian malaria parasites.
The new PCR assay based on novel P. knowlesi genomic sequence targets was able to accurately detect P. knowlesi. Additional laboratory and field-based testing of this assay will be necessary to further validate its utility for clinical diagnosis of P. knowlesi.
PMCID: PMC3282782  PMID: 22363751
19.  Human Plasmodium knowlesi infection in Ranong province, southwestern border of Thailand 
Malaria Journal  2012;11:36.
Plasmodium knowlesi, a simian malaria parasite, has been reported in humans in many Southeast Asian countries. In Thailand, most of the limited numbers of cases reported so far were from areas near neighbouring countries, including Myanmar.
Blood samples collected from 171 Thai and 248 Myanmese patients attending a malaria clinic in Ranong province, Thailand, located near the Myanmar border were investigated for P. knowlesi using nested PCR assays. Positive samples were also investigated by PCR for Plasmodium falciparum, Plasmodium vivax, Plasmodium malariae and Plasmodium ovale, and were confirmed by sequencing the gene encoding the circumsporozoite protein (csp).
Two samples, one obtained from a Thai and the other a Myanmese, were positive for P. knowlesi only. Nucleotide sequences of the csp gene derived from these two patients were identical and phylogenetically indistinguishable from other P. knowlesi sequences derived from monkeys and humans. Both patients worked in Koh Song, located in the Kawthoung district of Myanmar, which borders Thailand.
This study indicates that transmission of P. knowlesi is occurring in the Ranong province of Thailand or the Kawthoung district of Myanmar. Further studies are required to assess the incidence of knowlesi malaria and whether macaques in these areas are the source of the infections.
PMCID: PMC3293766  PMID: 22313518
Plasmodium knowlesi; Thailand; Myanmar; Circumsporozoite protein
20.  Genome sequences reveal divergence times of malaria parasite lineages 
Parasitology  2010;138(13):1737-1749.
The evolutionary history of human malaria parasites (genus Plasmodium) has long been a subject of speculation and controversy. The complete genome sequences of the two most widespread human malaria parasites, P. falciparum and P. vivax, and of the monkey parasite P. knowlesi are now available, together with the draft genomes of the chimpanzee parasite P. reichenowi, three rodent parasites, P. yoelii yoelli, P. berghei and P. chabaudi chabaudi, and one avian parasite, P. gallinaceum.
We present here an analysis of 45 orthologous gene sequences across the eight species that resolves the relationships of major Plasmodium lineages, and provides the first comprehensive dating of the age of those groups.
Our analyses support the hypothesis that the last common ancestor of P. falciparum and the chimpanzee parasite P. reichenowi occurred around the time of the human-chimpanzee divergence. P. falciparum infections of African apes are most likely derived from humans and not the other way around. On the other hand, P. vivax, split from the monkey parasite P. knowlesi in the much more distant past, during the time that encompasses the separation of the Great Apes and Old World Monkeys.
The results support an ancient association between malaria parasites and their primate hosts, including humans.
PMCID: PMC3081533  PMID: 21118608
21.  Plasmodium knowlesi in humans, macaques and mosquitoes in peninsular Malaysia 
Parasites & Vectors  2008;1:26.
Since a large focus of human infection with Plasmodium knowlesi, a simian malaria parasite naturally found in long-tailed and pig tailed macaques, was reported in Sarawak, Malaysian Borneo, it was pertinent to study the situation in peninsular Malaysia. A study was thus initiated to screen human cases of Plasmodium malariae using molecular techniques, to determine the presence of P. knowlesi in non- human primates and to elucidate its vectors.
Nested polymerase chain reaction (PCR) was used to identify all Plasmodium species present in the human blood samples sent to the Parasitology laboratory of Institute for Medical Research. At the same time, non-human primates were also screened for malaria parasites and nested PCR was carried out to determine the presence of P. knowlesi. Mosquitoes were collected from Pahang by human landing collection and monkey-baited-traps situated on three different levels. All mosquitoes were identified and salivary glands and midguts of anopheline mosquitoes were dissected to determine the presence of malaria parasites and nested PCR was carried out on positive glands. Sequencing of the csp genes were carried on P. knowlesi samples from humans, monkeys and mosquitoes, positive by PCR.
Results and Discussion
Plasmodium knowlesi was detected in 77 (69.37%) of the 111 human samples, 10 (6.90%) of the 145 monkey blood and in 2 (1.7%) Anopheles cracens. Sequence of the csp gene clustered with other P. knowlesi isolates.
Human infection with Plasmodium knowlesi is occurring in most states of peninsular Malaysia. An. cracens is the main vector. Economic exploitation of the forest is perhaps bringing monkeys, mosquitoes and humans into increased contact. A single bite from a mosquito infected with P. knowlesi is sufficient to introduce the parasite to humans. Thus, this zoonotic transmission has to be considered in the future planning of malaria control.
PMCID: PMC2531168  PMID: 18710577
22.  Defining the Geographical Range of the Plasmodium knowlesi Reservoir 
The simian malaria parasite, Plasmodium knowlesi, can cause severe and fatal disease in humans yet it is rarely included in routine public health reporting systems for malaria and its geographical range is largely unknown. Because malaria caused by P. knowlesi is a truly neglected tropical disease, there are substantial obstacles to defining the geographical extent and risk of this disease. Information is required on the occurrence of human cases in different locations, on which non-human primates host this parasite and on which vectors are able to transmit it to humans. We undertook a systematic review and ranked the existing evidence, at a subnational spatial scale, to investigate the potential geographical range of the parasite reservoir capable of infecting humans.
Methodology/Principal Findings
After reviewing the published literature we identified potential host and vector species and ranked these based on how informative they are for the presence of an infectious parasite reservoir, based on current evidence. We collated spatial data on parasite occurrence and the ranges of the identified host and vector species. The ranked spatial data allowed us to assign an evidence score to 475 subnational areas in 19 countries and we present the results on a map of the Southeast and South Asia region.
We have ranked subnational areas within the potential disease range according to evidence for presence of a disease risk to humans, providing geographical evidence to support decisions on prevention, management and prophylaxis. This work also highlights the unknown risk status of large parts of the region. Within this unknown category, our map identifies which areas have most evidence for the potential to support an infectious reservoir and are therefore a priority for further investigation. Furthermore we identify geographical areas where further investigation of putative host and vector species would be highly informative for the region-wide assessment.
Author Summary
Plasmodium knowlesi is a malaria parasite found in monkeys which can infect humans via mosquito bites. People infected with the P. knowlesi parasite can suffer severe disease and death yet this disease has often been misdiagnosed as a different malaria type and its geographical distribution is largely unknown. The lack of data on human infections in much of Southeast Asia means a simple map of reported cases would likely misrepresent the extent of the disease. Instead we evaluated and ranked a range of evidence types according to how informative they are about the presence of an infection risk to humans and we mapped this ranked information. This highlighted those geographical areas where new data on the monkey and mosquito species involved in the infection of humans would add most to our knowledge of the full range of factors involved in disease risk. The resulting map highlights known locations of the parasite, and areas where presence of the disease in humans is unknown but possible.
PMCID: PMC3967999  PMID: 24676231
23.  Deaths due to Plasmodium knowlesi malaria in Sabah, Malaysia: association with reporting as Plasmodium malariae and delayed parenteral artesunate 
Malaria Journal  2012;11:284.
The simian parasite Plasmodium knowlesi is recognized as a common cause of severe and fatal human malaria in Sabah, Malaysia, but is morphologically indistinguishable from and still commonly reported as Plasmodium malariae, despite the paucity of this species in Sabah. Since December 2008 Sabah Department of Health has recommended intravenous artesunate and referral to a general hospital for all severe malaria cases of any species. This paper reviews all malaria deaths in Sabah subsequent to the introduction of these measures. Reporting of malaria deaths in Malaysia is mandatory.
Details of reported malaria deaths during 2010-2011 were reviewed to determine the proportion of each Plasmodium species. Demographics, clinical presentations and management of severe malaria caused by each species were compared.
Fourteen malaria deaths were reported, comprising seven Plasmodium falciparum, six P. knowlesi and one Plasmodium vivax (all PCR-confirmed). Of the six P. knowlesi deaths, five were attributable to knowlesi malaria and one was attributable to P. knowlesi-associated enterobacter sepsis. Patients with directly attributable P. knowlesi deaths (N = 5) were older than those with P. falciparum (median age 51 [IQR 50-65] vs 22 [IQR 9-55] years, p = 0.06). Complications in fatal P. knowlesi included respiratory distress (N = 5, 100%), hypotension (N = 4, 80%), and renal failure (N = 4, 80%). All patients with P. knowlesi were reported as P. malariae by microscopy. Only two of five patients with severe knowlesi malaria on presentation received immediate parenteral anti-malarial treatment. The patient with P. vivax-associated severe illness did not receive parenteral treatment. In contrast six of seven patients with severe falciparum malaria received immediate parenteral treatment.
Plasmodium knowlesi was responsible, either directly or through gram-negative bacteraemia, for almost half of malaria deaths in Sabah. Patients with severe non-falciparum malaria were less likely to receive immediate parenteral therapy. This highlights the need in Sabah for microscopically diagnosed P. malariae to be reported as P. knowlesi to improve recognition and management of this potentially fatal species. Clinicians need to be better informed of the potential for severe and fatal malaria from non-falciparum species, and the need to treat all severe malaria with immediate intravenous artesunate.
PMCID: PMC3472242  PMID: 22905799
Malaria; Plasmodium knowlesi
24.  Swedish traveller with Plasmodium knowlesi malaria after visiting Malaysian Borneo 
Malaria Journal  2009;8:15.
Plasmodium knowlesi is typically found in nature in macaques and has recently been recognized as the fifth species of Plasmodium causing malaria in human populations in south-east Asia. A case of knowlesi malaria is described in a Swedish man, who became ill after returning from a short visit to Malaysian Borneo in October 2006. His P. knowlesi infection was not detected using a rapid diagnostic test for malaria, but was confirmed by PCR and molecular characterization. He responded rapidly to treatment with mefloquine. Evaluation of rapid diagnostic kits with further samples from knowlesi malaria patients are necessary, since early identification and appropriate anti-malarial treatment of suspected cases are essential due to the rapid growth and potentially life-threatening nature of P. knowlesi. Physicians should be aware that knowlesi infection is an important differential diagnosis in febrile travellers, with a recent travel history to forested areas in south-east Asia, including short-term travellers who tested negative with rapid diagnostic tests.
PMCID: PMC2634766  PMID: 19146706
25.  Expansion of host cellular niche can drive adaptation of a zoonotic malaria parasite to humans 
Nature communications  2013;4:1638.
The macaque malaria parasite Plasmodium knowlesi has recently emerged as an important zoonosis in Southeast Asia. Infections are typically mild but can cause severe disease, achieving parasite densities similar to fatal Plasmodium falciparum infections. We show that a primate-adapted P. knowlesi parasite proliferates poorly in human blood due to a strong preference for young red blood cells. We establish a continuous in vitro culture system by using human blood enriched for young cells. Mathematical modeling predicts that parasite adaptation for invasion of older red blood cells is a likely mechanism leading to high parasite densities in clinical infections. Consistent with this model, we find that P. knowlesi can adapt to invade a wider age range of red blood cells, resulting in proliferation in normal human blood. Such cellular niche expansion may increase pathogenesis in humans and will be a key feature to monitor as P. knowlesi emerges in human populations.
PMCID: PMC3762474  PMID: 23535659

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