Fig.1 Unusual features of Plasmodium
Figure.2 Parasite entry into and replication within red blood cells
Plasmodium is a genus of parasitic alveolates. It was first described in the year 1885 and now contains about 200 species including several species that can cause malaria in their natural hosts. Plasmodium parasite always has two hosts in its life cycle: a dipteran insect host (for example, mosquitos) and a vertebrate host. Plasmodium can perform sexual reproduction in their definitive host. The life cycle of Plasmodium species involves some different stages in both the two kinds of hosts, including sporozoites, merozoites, gametocytes and hypnozoites in some species. Five Plasmodium species are known to regularly infect humans (P. falciparum, P. malariae, P. ovale, P. vivax and P. knowlesi).
The life cycle of Plasmodium species involves several different stages in the insect and vertebrate hosts. Plasmodium parasites exist in the salivary gland of infected mosquitoes as sporozoite form. Sporozoites are injected into the vertebrate host along with the saliva when the infected mosquito bites the vertebrate host. The sporozoites join in the blood stream and then are transported to the liver, where they invade and replicate within liver cells (or hepatocytes). Newly produced parasite (merozoite form) return to the blood and start to invade red blood cells. Merozoites grow first to a ring-shaped form and then turn to a larger trophozoite form. Trophozoites then mature to schizonts which divide several times to produce new merozoites. The infected red blood cells eventually burst, allowing the newly produced merozoites return back to the blood and invade new red blood cells. Most merozoites continue this replicative cycle while some of them differentiate into male or female sexual forms called gametocytes. These gametocytes exist in the blood circling system until a mosquito feeds on the infected vertebrate host, taking up them along with the blood. Gametocytes develop into male and female gametes in the salivary gland of infected mosquitoes and form a zygote. Zygotes will finally develop into sporozoites and continue the life cycle.
Rapid diagnostic tests for malaria have been developed based on the detection of malarial antigens present in peripheral blood. Most tests use monoclonal antibodies and detect particular malarial antigens in blood specimens. Tests have been developed to detect antigens, including histidine-rich protein 2 (HRP-2), aldolase, lactate dehydrogenase (LDH), etc.
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