Despite evident success of malaria control in many sites in the Arabian Peninsula, malaria remains endemic in a few spots, in Yemen and south-west of Saudi Arabia. In addition to local transmission, imported malaria sustains an extra source of parasites that can challenge the strengths of local control strategies. This study examined the genetic diversity of Plasmodium falciparum in Yemen and mutations of drug resistant genes, to elucidate parasite structure and distribution of drug resistance genotypes in the region.
Five polymorphic loci (MSP-2, Pfg377 and three microsatellites on chromosome 8) not involved in anti-malarial drug resistance, and four drug resistant genes (pfcrt, pfmdr1, dhfr and dhps) were genotyped in 108 P. falciparum isolates collected in three sites in Yemen: Dhamar, Hodeidah and Taiz.
High diversity was seen in non-drug genes, pfg377 (He = 0.66), msp-2 (He = 0.80) and three microsatellites on chr 8, 7.7 kb (He = 0.88), 4.3 kb (He = 0.77) and 0.8 kb (He = 0.71). There was a high level of mixed-genotype infections (57%), with an average 1.8 genotypes per patient. No linkage disequilibrium was seen between drug resistant genes and the non-drug markers (p < 0.05). Genetic differentiation between populations was low (most pair-wise FST values <0.03), indicating extensive gene flow between the parasites in the three sites.
There was a high prevalence of mutations in pfmdr1, pfcrt and dhfr; with four mutant pfmdr1 genotypes (NFCDD[57%], NFSND[21%], YFCDD[13%] and YFSND[8% ]), two mutant pfcrt genotypes (CVIET[89%] and SVMNT[4%]) and one mutant dhfr genotype (ICNI[53.7%]). However, no dhps mutations were detected.
The high diversity of P. falciparum in Yemen is indicative of a large parasite reservoir, which represents a challenge to control efforts. The presence of two distinct pfcrt genotype, CVIET and SVMNT, suggests that chloroquine resistance can possibly be related to a migratory path from Africa and Asia. The absence of the triple mutant dhfr genotype (IRN) and dhps mutations supports the use of artesunate + sulphadoxine-pyrimethamine as first-line therapy. However, the prevalent pfmdr1 genotype NFSND [21%] has previously been associated with tolerance/resistance response to artemisinin combination therapy (ACT). Regular surveys are, therefore, important to monitor spread of pfmdr1 and dhfr mutations and response to ACT.