Current anti-malarial drugs have been selected on the basis of their activity against the symptom-causing asexual blood stage of the parasite. Which of these drugs also target gametocytes, in the sexual stage responsible for disease transmission, remains unknown. Blocking transmission is one of the main strategies in the eradication agenda and requires the identification of new molecules that are active against gametocytes. However, to date, the main limitation for measuring the effect of molecules against mature gametocytes on a large scale is the lack of a standardized and reliable method. Here we provide an efficient method to produce and purify mature gametocytes in vitro. Based on this new procedure, we developed a robust, affordable, and sensitive ATP bioluminescence-based assay. We then assessed the activity of 17 gold-standard anti-malarial drugs on Plasmodium late stage gametocytes.
Methods and Findings
Difficulties in producing large amounts of gametocytes have limited progress in the development of malaria transmission blocking assays. We improved the method established by Ifediba and Vanderberg to obtain viable, mature gametocytes en masse, whatever the strain used. We designed an assay to determine the activity of antimalarial drugs based on the intracellular ATP content of purified stage IV–V gametocytes after 48 h of drug exposure in 96/384-well microplates. Measurements of drug activity on asexual stages and cytotoxicity on HepG2 cells were also obtained to estimate the specificity of the active drugs.
The work described here represents another significant step towards determination of the activity of new molecules on mature gametocytes of any strain with an automated assay suitable for medium/high-throughput screening. Considering that the biology of the forms involved in the sexual and asexual stages is very different, a screen of our 2 million-compound library may allow us to discover novel anti-malarial drugs to target gametocyte-specific metabolic pathways.
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