- Research note
- Open Access
A snapshot of Plasmodium falciparum malaria drug resistance markers in Sudan: a pilot study
BMC Research Notes volume 13, Article number: 512 (2020)
Malaria infection is still known to be a worldwide public health problem, especially in tropical and sub-tropical African countries like Sudan. A pilot study conducted to describe the trend of P. falciparum drug resistance markers in 2017–2018 in comparison to CQ and AS/SP eras in Sudan. The Pfcrt, Pfmdr-1, Pfdhfr, and Pfdhps genes were investigated. Data deposited by the worldwide antimalarial resistance network was consulted, and the molecular markers previously reported from Sudan were analyzed.
Drug molecular markers analysis was successfully done on 20 P. falciparum isolates. The Pfcrt K76 showed high frequency; 16 (80%). For the Pfmdr-1, 9 (45%) isolates were carrying the N86 allele, and 11 (55%) were 86Y allele. While the Y184F of the Pfmdr-1 showed a higher frequency of 184F compared to Y184; 16 (80%) and 4 (20%), respectively. In the Pfdhfr, 51I allele showed higher frequency compared to N51; 18 (90%) and 2 (10%), respectively. For S108N, 18 (90%) were 108 N and 2 (10%) were S108. In the Pfdhps, all isolates were carrying the mutant alleles; 437G and 540E. The frequency distribution of the Pfcrt, Pfmdr-1, Pfdhfr, Pfdhps was significantly different across the whole years in Sudan.
Malaria infection is still known to be a worldwide public health problem, especially in tropical and sub-tropical African countries . In Sudan, in the late 70s of the last century, a high proportion of drug resistance was reported when Chloroquine (CQ) was introduced as the first-line treatment for falciparum malaria . By 2004 the malaria treatment protocol was shifted to the artemisinin-based combination treatment (ACTs); Artesunate (AS) and Sulfadoxine–Pyrimethamine (SP) as a first-line treatment against uncomplicated falciparum malaria, and artemether–lumefantrine (AL) as a second-line treatment . In 2017, the malaria treatment protocol was shifted to AL for the treatment of uncomplicated falciparum malaria, and Quinine for treating the severe infections . Subsequently, therapeutic efficacy studies were conducted to monitor and detect the emergence of drug-resistant malaria parasites [5,6,7,8,9]. However, another approach for the early detection of drug resistance emergence was implemented by using molecular markers to investigate the efficacy of treatments in-vitro.
P. falciparum chloroquine resistance transporter (Pfcrt) and P. falciparum multidrug resistance gene 1 (Pfmdr-1) are previously known membrane transporters associated with resistance to the drug combination of CQ and AQ or MQ and Lumefantrine (L) [10, 11]. The CVIET haplotype of Pfcrt is known as the most robust CQ resistance marker in Africa [12,13,14,15]. In vitro experiments showed that N86Y and Y184F mutations in the Pfmdr-1 gene increases the inhibitory concentrations of CQ and AQ [10, 12], and reduce susceptibility to MQ and L [12, 13].
Previous studies on the P. falciparum dihydrofolate reductase (Pfdhfr) and dihydropteroate synthase (Pfdhps) has been identified as known targets of SP antimalarial drugs . The mutations in the Pfdhfr codons 51, 59, and 164; and the Pfdhps codons 436, 437, 540, 581, and 613 were conferring the resistance .
The need for updated molecular markers studies to investigate the frequency of falciparum malaria drug-resistant is extreme. This pilot study aims to describe the trend of P. falciparum drug resistance markers in 2017–2018 in comparison to CQ and AS/SP eras in Sudan.
Materials and methods
This pilot study was conducted in Khartoum state between December 2017 and July 2018. Febrile patients (axillary temperature < 37 °C) who were diagnosed microscopically by examining Giemsa stained blood films as falciparum malaria infection were recruited. Informed consent was taken from the patients before sample collection. Participants diagnosed with P. falciparum/P. vivax co-infection and P. vivax mono-infections were excluded.
Sample collection and DNA extraction
Two ml blood samples were collected before starting the treatment and preserved into lithium heparin blood containers for DNA extraction using the Guanidine Chloride extraction method as described previously . DNA was stored in − 20 °C until molecular examinations later.
Parasite genotyping and drug resistance markers assessment
The microscopic diagnosis was confirmed using the primers described previously . Genotyping of the specific point mutations in the P. falciparum genome was done using the Sanger sequencing method by using the primers sets for Pfcrt, Pfmdr-1, Pfdhfr, and Pfdhps genes as described previously . PCR amplicons were sequenced in both directions using the forward and reverse primers for each gene to exclude any base-calling errors that could be obtained during sequencing. Sequences were validated using GENtle software (v1.9.4) and aligned in comparison with the wildtype P. falciparum 3D7 strain reference sequences (PF3D7_0709000 for Pfcrt, PF3D7_0523000 for Pfmdr-1, PF3D7_1324800 for Pfdhfr, and PF3D7_0810800 for Pfdhps). The deduced amino acids were translated from nucleotide sequences using MEGA7 software (v7.0.26) to determine sequences mutations at the Pfcrt codon 76; Pfmdr-1 codons 86 and 184; Pfdhfr codons 51, 59, and 108; and the substitutions at the Pfdhps in codons 437 and 540. The nucleotide sequences used in this study have been deposited in the NCBI GenBank database (https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/) under the accession numbers MT995200–MT995259.
Previous reports on drug resistance markers in Sudan
Data deposited by the worldwide antimalarial resistance network (WWARN) (https://www.wwarn.org/) was consulted, and the molecular markers previously reported from Sudan were identified, collected, and analyzed to compare between past and present frequency of malaria drug resistance mutations. Data sets included SP molecular surveyors (https://www.wwarn.org/sp-molecular-surveyor) and ACT partner drug molecular surveyors (https://www.wwarn.org/tracking-resistance/act-partner-drug-molecular-surveyor). Numbers and drug molecular marker genotypes of P. falciparum isolates included in the historical literature review data set analyzed in this study are presented in Additional file 1.
The statistical analysis was done using the statistical Package for Social Sciences (SPSS, v20.0). One-way ANOVA test was used to calculate the least significance difference of frequency distribution in the molecular markers. Pearson correlation was used to investigate the association between the different drug resistance markers. P value ≤ 0.05 was considered statistically significant.
Molecular genotyping results
In this pilot study, a total of 28 malaria parasite isolates were genotyped, of them, 2 and 6 isolates were excluded since were P. falciparum/P. vivax coinfections and P. vivax infections, respectively. The remaining 20 isolates were confirmed by PCR as P. falciparum mono-infections.
Frequency of P. falciparum drug resistance markers
Drug molecular markers analysis was successfully done on the 20 P. falciparum isolates. Out of the 20 isolates, Pfcrt K76 showed the highest frequency; 16 (80%). Pfcrt 76 T was 4 (20%). None of the isolates was carrying mixed Pfcrt allele infection; K/T. For the Pfmdr-1 marker, 9 (45%) isolates were carrying the N86 allele and 11 (55%) were carrying the 86Y allele. While the Y184F of the Pfmdr-1 showed a higher frequency of 184F compared to Y184; 16 (80%) and 4 (20%), respectively. Concerning the double Pfmdr-1 haplotypes; NY haplotype was 2 (10%), NF was 7 (35%), YF was 9 (45%), and YY was 2 (10%).
The Pfdhfr N51I showed a higher frequency of 51I compared to N51; 18 (90%) and 2 (10%), respectively. Whereas for Pfdhfr C59R, C59 was 18 (90%), and 59R was 2 (10%). For Pfdhfr S108N, 18 (90%) were 108 N and 2 (10%) were S108. For the triplet haplotype of the Pfdhfr, the haplotype ICN was the most frequent; 16 (80%). IRN and NCS were only present in two isolates; 2 (10%) for each. For the Pfdhps, all the 20 (100%) isolates were carrying the mutant alleles; 437G and 540E (Table 1). A statistically significant positive correlation was observed for Pfmdr-1 and the combined Pfdhfr and Pfdhps alleles, Pearson r’ = 0.509, P value = 0.035. While, for the Pfcrt and the combined Pfdhfr and Pfdhps, a statistically insignificant negative correlation was found, Pearson’s’ r = − 0.248, P value = 0.291.
The trend in P. falciparum multidrug resistance from 1989 to 2018
The T allele of the Pfcrt was at a higher frequency during 2000–2001 (89.6%) however, T mutant allele frequency started to dropdown reaching up to 43.9% in 2016 and bottomed at 20% in 2018. Frequency of Pfcrt K76 allele was higher compared to all previous years; 80%, while the N86Y mutation of the Pfmdr-1 was extremely flocculation during the past years (Fig. 1).
Concerning the Pfdhfr N51I and S108N, in 1996–1997 the NS wildtype haplotype showed low frequency compared to the IN mutant haplotype; 18.6% and 74.3%, respectively. While in 1998–1999 the frequency of the NS haplotype reached to 100%. Whereas the prevalence of the NS haplotype from 2002–2003 continued to decrease to 10% in 2017–2018. On the other hand, the IN mutant haplotype increased to 85.5% in 2002–2003, and reaching 92.7% in 2009–2012; and remained constant approximately 90% in 2017–2018. Also, for the Pfdhps, in 1998–1999 AK wildtype haplotype was 93.1%, but in 2002–2003 GE mutant haplotype increased to 75.1%. In 2007, the AK wildtype haplotype increased again to 77.8% and decreased to 36.1% in 2009–2012. And, in 2016 reached 51.1%. However, in this study in 2017–2018, the GE mutant haplotype was prevalent in all the studied samples 20 (100%) (Fig. 2).
The frequency distribution of the Pfcrt and Pfmdr-1, Pfdhfr, and Pfdhps mutations was significantly different across the whole years in Sudan. An illustrated statistical significance and insignificance of the frequency distribution of P. falciparum multidrug resistance markers between the different years' intervals are described in Additional file 2 Tables S1–S5.
The reported frequency of Pfcrt K76 allele in this study was significantly high compared to previous years, especially during the CQ deployment years in Sudan . During the AS/SP era; since 2004, Pfcrt K76 allele had increased. This increase can be suggested due to limited or ambient exposure of P. falciparum parasite to CQ or might be due to an increase in AL pressure. Similar results were reported from Malawi, and Tanzania supporting the increase of Pfcrt K76 allele [18,19,20,21]. While, in Zambia, complete disappearance of Pfcrt 76 T allele from the examined isolates was reported .
The Pfdhfr IN haplotype and Pfdhps GE haplotype significantly increased in 2017–2018 where both haplotypes were showing high frequency; 90% and 100%, respectively. This increase could be due to the enduring pressure of AS/SP since 2007 . This phenomenon was observed in all countries where AS/SP was used to treat uncomplicated malaria such as Nigeria and Equatorial Guinea; where the prevalence of mutant haplotypes reached more than 90% [24,25,26].
The prevalence of Pfmdr-1 NF haplotype in 2017–2018 is noted among 35% of the study samples. Comparison between previous years for the frequency distribution of Pfmdr-1 double haplotypes showed a statistically significant difference between all years and 2008 when at that time the recommended malaria treatment was AS/SP, and since 2009 the use of AL is significantly increased due to malpractice in drug use, such as usage of incorrect dosage and insufficient information stated to patients about the prescribed treatment which may lead to the increase in resistance and recurrent infections rates .
Previously, the development of molecular markers for AL resistance was thought to be difficult because there were no known resistant lab lines can be used as resistance controls. Meanwhile, investigating the Pfmdr-1 NFSND haplotype could be the role evolution for the developed mutations because it allows a longer survival rate of the parasite [11, 28].
In the present study, Pfmdr-1 86Y allele, Pfdhfr IN haplotype, and Pfdhps GE haplotype were constituting the majority of the studied samples; 90%, which is also similar to a previous study conducted in Sudan; where all the investigated parasite isolates were carrying the Pfmdr-1 86Y allele, Pfdhfr IN haplotype, and Pfdhps 540E .
The prevalence of Pfdhps double haplotype GE detected in this study could hinder the effect of SP if used as intermittent preventive therapy during pregnancy (IPTp). Although, SP as IPTp was not implemented and there is no information about the use of SP during pregnancy in Sudan . The presence of Pfdhfr IRN in combination with Pfdhps GE haplotypes forming the quintuple mutant haplotype confers a high risk for treatment failure in malaria-infected children and nonpregnant adults who receive SP as a seasonal malaria chemoprevention treatment (SMC-SP) . However, previous studies indicated that IPTp-SP is still efficacious in areas with a high prevalence of resistant P. falciparum parasite . Nevertheless, the increased resistance rate might compromise the implication of IPTp-SP [32,33,34].
This study describes the distribution of P. falciparum multidrug resistance markers throughout Sudan. The study provides a baseline data of the status of these markers which could be very useful for the malaria control program for establishing surveillance system to monitor the emergence of malaria drug resistance for more effective treatment protocol and successful control of the disease.
The lack of clinical and background information, particularly, the previously used drug before the blood sampling substantially can affect the prevalence of the alleles. Therefore, complete clinical history information is needed and can be very useful in future studies.
Availability of data and material
All datasets used and analysed in this study are available in the manuscript. DNA sequences analysed during the current study are available at the NCBI GenBank database under the accession numbers MT995200–MT995259.
Artemisinin-based combination therapies
Intermittent preventive therapy during pregnancy
- Pfcrt :
P. falciparum Chloroquine resistance transporter
- Pfdhfr :
P. falciparum Dihydrofolate reductase
- Pfdhps :
P. falciparum Dihydropteroate synthase
- Pfmdr-1 :
P. falciparum Multidrug resistance gene 1
Worldwide Antimalarial Resistance Network
WHO: World malaria report 2019. Geneva: World Health Organization 2019.
Kouznetsov R, Rooney W, Wernsdorfer W, El Gaddal A, Payne D, Abdalla R. Assessment of the sensitivity of Plasmodium falciparum to antimalarial drugs at Sennar, Sudan: use of the in vitro micro-technique and the in vivo method. Geneva: World Health Organization; 1979.
Malik EM, Khalafalla O. Malaria in Sudan: past, present and the future. Gezira J Health Sci. 2004;1:1–9.
Sudan Malaria Diagnosis and Treatment Protocol. 2017. https://reliefweb.int/report/sudan/sudan-malaria-diagnosis-and-treatment-protocol-2017#:~:text=Sudan%20Malaria%20Treatment%20Protocol%2C%202017,Gedarif%20State%20(%3E10%25). Accessed 2 July 2020.
Adam I, Ibrahim M, Aelbasit I, El Bashir M. Efficacy of sulfadoxine/pyrimethamine for uncomplicated Plasmodium falciparum malaria in a small sample of Sudanese children. pp 309–314, 2004.
Salah MT, Mohammed MM, Himeidan YE, Malik EM, Elbashir MI, Adam I. A randomized comparison of sulphadoxine–pyrimethamine and combination of sulphadoxine pyrimethamine with chloroquine in the treatment of uncomplicated falciparum malaria in Eastern Sudan. Saudi Med J. 2005;26:147–8.
Elamin SB, Malik EM, Abdelgadir T, Khamiss AH, Mohammed MM, Ahmed ES, Adam I. Artesunate plus sulfadoxine–pyrimethamine for treatment of uncomplicated Plasmodium falciparum malaria in Sudan. Malar J. 2005;4:41.
Adam I, A-Elbasit I, Idris S, Malik E, Elbashir M. A comparison of the efficacy of artesunate plus sulfadoxine–pyrimethamine with that of sulfadoxine–pyrimethamine alone, in the treatment of uncomplicated, Plasmodium falciparum malaria in eastern Sudan. Ann Trop Med Parasitol. 2005;99:449–55.
Adeel AA. Drug-resistant malaria in Sudan: a review of evidence and scenarios for the future. Sudan J Paediatr. 2012;12:8.
Duraisingh MT, Roper C, Walliker D, Warhurst DC. Increased sensitivity to the antimalarials mefloquine and artemisinin is conferred by mutations in the pfmdr1 gene of Plasmodium falciparum. Mol Microbiol. 2000;36:955–61.
Malmberg M, Ngasala B, Ferreira PE, Larsson E, Jovel I, Hjalmarsson A, Petzold M, Premji Z, Gil JP, Bjorkman A, Martensson A. Temporal trends of molecular markers associated with artemether-lumefantrine tolerance/resistance in Bagamoyo district, Tanzania. Malar J. 2013;12:103.
Price RN, Uhlemann A-C, Brockman A, McGready R, Ashley E, Phaipun L, Patel R, Laing K, Looareesuwan S, White NJ. Mefloquine resistance in Plasmodium falciparum and increased pfmdr1 gene copy number. Lancet. 2004;364:438–47.
Mukherjee A, Gagnon D, Wirth DF, Richard D. Inactivation of plasmepsins 2 and 3 sensitizes Plasmodium falciparum to the antimalarial drug piperaquine. Antimicrob Agents Chemother. 2018;62:e02309-02317.
Ecker A, Lehane AM, Fidock DA. Molecular markers of Plasmodium resistance to antimalarials. In: Treatment and prevention of malaria. Basel: Springer; 2011. p 249–280
Ciulla TA, Sklar RM, Hauser SL. A simple method for DNA purification from peripheral blood. Anal Biochem. 1988;174:485–8.
Snounou G, Viriyakosol S, Jarra W, Thaithong S, Brown KN. Identification of the four human malaria parasite species in field samples by the polymerase chain reaction and detection of a high prevalence of mixed infections. Mol Biochem Parasitol. 1993;58:283–92.
Salem OA, Mint Lekweiry K, Bouchiba H, Pascual A, Pradines B. Characterization of Plasmodium falciparum genes associated with drug resistance in Hodh Elgharbi, a malaria hotspot near Malian–Mauritanian border. Malar J. 2017;16:140.
Lu F, Zhang M, Culleton RL, Xu S, Tang J, Zhou H, Zhu G, Gu Y, Zhang C, Liu Y, et al. Return of chloroquine sensitivity to Africa? Surveillance of African Plasmodium falciparum chloroquine resistance through malaria imported to China. Parasit Vectors. 2017;10:355.
Frosch AE, Laufer MK, Mathanga DP, Takala-Harrison S, Skarbinski J, Claassen CW, Dzinjalamala FK, Plowe CV. Return of widespread chloroquine-sensitive Plasmodium falciparum to Malawi. J Infect Dis. 2014;210:1110–4.
Laufer MK, Thesing PC, Eddington ND, Masonga R, Dzinjalamala FK, Takala SL, Taylor TE, Plowe CV. Return of chloroquine antimalarial efficacy in Malawi. N Engl J Med. 2006;355:1959–66.
Temu EA, Kimani I, Tuno N, Kawada H, Minjas JN, Takagi M. Monitoring chloroquine resistance using Plasmodium falciparum parasites isolated from wild mosquitoes in Tanzania. Am J Trop Med Hyg. 2006;75:1182–7.
Mwanza S, Joshi S, Nambozi M, Chileshe J, Malunga P, Kabuya J-BB, Hachizovu S, Manyando C, Mulenga M, Laufer M. The return of chloroquine-susceptible Plasmodium falciparum malaria in Zambia. Malar J. 2016;15:1–6.
Osman ME, Mockenhaupt FP, Bienzle U, Elbashir MI, Giha HA. Field-based evidence for linkage of mutations associated with chloroquine (pfcrt/pfmdr1) and sulfadoxine-pyrimethamine (pfdhfr/pfdhps) resistance and for the fitness cost of multiple mutations in P. falciparum. Infect Genet Evol. 2007;7:52–9.
Flegg JA, Metcalf CJE, Gharbi M, Venkatesan M, Shewchuk T, Hopkins Sibley C, Guerin PJ. Trends in antimalarial drug use in Africa. Am J Trop Med Hyg. 2013;89:857–65.
Quan H, Igbasi U, Oyibo W, Omilabu S, Chen S-B, Shen H-M, Okolie C, Chen J-H, Zhou X-N. High multiple mutations of Plasmodium falciparum-resistant genotypes to sulphadoxine-pyrimethamine in Lagos, Nigeria. Infect Dis Poverty. 2020;9:1–11.
Li J, Chen J, Xie D, Eyi UM, Matesa RA, Obono MMO, Ehapo CS, Yang L, Yang H, Lin M. Molecular mutation profile of Pfcrt and Pfmdr1 in Plasmodium falciparum isolates from Bioko Island, Equatorial Guinea. Infect Genet Evol. 2015;36:552–6.
Elmannan AA, Elmardi KA, Idris YA, Spector JM, Ali NA, Malik EM. Anti-malarial prescribing practices in Sudan eight years after introduction of artemisinin-based combination therapies and implications for development of drug resistance. BMC Pharmacol Toxicol. 2015;16:3.
Bakhiet AMA, Abdelraheem MH, Kheir A, Omer S, Gismelseed L, Abdel-Muhsin AA, Naiem A, Al Hosni A, Al Dhuhli A, Al Rubkhi M, et al. Evolution of Plasmodium falciparum drug resistance genes following artemisinin combination therapy in Sudan. Trans R Soc Trop Med Hyg. 2019;113:693–700.
Mohamed NS, Ali Albsheer MM, Abdelbagi H, Siddig EE, Mohamed MA, Ahmed AE, Omer RA, Muneer MS, Ahmed A, Osman HA, et al. Genetic polymorphism of the N-terminal region in circumsporozoite surface protein of Plasmodium falciparum field isolates from Sudan. Malar J. 2019;18:333.
Kublin JG, Dzinjalamala FK, Kamwendo DD, Malkin EM, Cortese JF, Martino LM, Mukadam RA, Rogerson SJ, Lescano AG, Molyneux ME. Molecular markers for failure of sulfadoxine–pyrimethamine and chlorproguanil-dapsone treatment of Plasmodium falciparum malaria. J Infect Dis. 2002;185:380–8.
Organization WH. Evidence review group: intermittent preventive treatment of malaria in pregnancy (IPTp) with sulfadoxine–pyrimethamine (SP). Geneva: WHO; 2012.
Harrington WE, Morrison R, Fried M, Duffy PE. Intermittent preventive treatment in pregnant women is associated with increased risk of severe malaria in their offspring. PLoS ONE. 2013;8:e56183.
Shulman C, Dorman E, Cutts F, Kawuondo K, Bulmer J, Peshu N, Marsh K. Intermittent sulphadoxine–pyrimethamine to prevent severe anaemia secondary to malaria in pregnancy: a randomised placebo-controlled trial. Lancet. 1999;353:632–6.
Harrington W, Mutabingwa T, Muehlenbachs A, Sorensen B, Bolla M, Fried M, Duffy P. Competitive facilitation of drug-resistant Plasmodium falciparum malaria parasites in pregnant women who receive preventive treatment. Proc Natl Acad Sci. 2009;106:9027–32.
We are of great thanks for kind collaboration and assistance of the clinical staff of all hospitals and health centers for providing the samples. Also, great thanks to all participants contributed to this work.
Ethics approval and consent to participate
This study was reviewed and approved by the National University Biomedical Research Ethics Committee, National University-Sudan. Oral and written informed consents were obtained from participants’ or parents or guardians in case of children.
Consent for publication
The authors declare that they have no competing interests.
Numbers and drug molecular markers genotypes of P. falciparum isolates from Sudan 1989 – 2018.
Statistical significance of Pfcrt K76T frequency distribution across the different previous studies conducted in Sudan. Table S2. Statistical significance of Pfmdr-1 N86Y frequency distribution across the different previous studies conducted in Sudan. Table S3. Statistical significance of Pfdhfr N51I and S108N double haplotype frequency distribution across the different previous studies conducted in Sudan. Table S4. Statistical significance of Pfdhps A437G and K540E double haplotype frequency distribution across the different previous studies conducted in Sudan. Table S5. Statistical significance of Pfmdr-1 N86Y and Y184F double haplotype frequency distribution across the different previous studies conducted in Sudan.
About this article
Cite this article
Mohamed, N.S., Abdelbagi, H., Osman, H.A. et al. A snapshot of Plasmodium falciparum malaria drug resistance markers in Sudan: a pilot study. BMC Res Notes 13, 512 (2020). https://doi.org/10.1186/s13104-020-05363-0
- Plasmodium falciparum
- Molecular markers
- Multi drug resistance