Plasmodium falciparum gametocytes, specifically the mature stages, are the only malaria parasite stage in humans transmissible to the mosquito vector. Anti-malarial drugs capable of killing these forms are considered essential for the eradication of malaria and tools allowing the screening of large compound libraries with high predictive power are needed to identify new candidates. As gametocytes are not a replicative stage it is difficult to apply the same drug screening methods used for asexual stages. Here we propose an assay, based on high content imaging, combining “classic” gametocyte viability readout based on gametocyte counts with a functional viability readout, based on gametocyte activation and the discrimination of the typical gamete spherical morphology. This simple and rapid assay has been miniaturized to a 384-well format using acridine orange staining of wild type P. falciparum 3D7A sexual forms, and was validated by screening reference antimalarial drugs and the MMV Malaria Box. The assay demonstrated excellent robustness and ability to identify quality hits with high likelihood of confirmation of transmission reducing activity in subsequent mosquito membrane feeding assays.
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