Plasmodium falciparum: gene mutations and amplification of dihydrofolate reductase genes in parasites grown in vitro in presence of pyrimethamine

S Thaithong, L C Ranford-Cartwright, N Siripoon, P Harnyuttanakorn, N S Kanchanakhan, A Seugorn, K Rungsihirunrat, P V Cravo, G H Beale

Research output: Contribution to journalArticle


Samples of three pyrimethamine-sensitive clones of Plasmodium falciparum were grown for periods of 22-46 weeks in media containing stepwise increases in pyrimethamine concentrations and were seen to develop up to 1000-fold increases in resistance to the drug. With clone T9/94RC17, the dihydrofolate reductase (DHFR) gene was sequenced from 10 uncloned populations and 29 pure clones, all having increased resistance to pyrimethamine, and these sequences were compared with the sequence of the original pyrimethamine-sensitive clone. No changes in amino acid sequence were found to have occurred. Some resistant clones obtained by this method were then examined by pulsed-field gel electrophoresis, and the results indicated that there had been an increase in the size of chromosome 4. This was confirmed by hybridization of Southern blots with a chromosome 4-specific probe, the vacuolar ATPase subunit B gene, and a probe to DHFR. Dot-blotting with an oligonucleotide probe to DHFR confirmed that there had been increases up to 44-fold in copy number of the DHFR gene in the resistant strains. Resistant clones obtained by this procedure were then grown in medium lacking pyrimethamine for a period of nearly 2 years, and reversion nearly to the level of pyrimethamine sensitivity of the original clone T9/94RC17 was found to occur after about 16 months. Correspondingly, the chromosome 4 of the reverted population reverted to a size like that of the original sensitive clone T9/94RC17. The procedure of growing parasites in stepwise increases of pyrimethamine concentration was repeated with two other pyrimethamine-sensitive clones: TM4CB8-2.2.3 and G112CB1.1. (The DHFR gene of these clones encodes serine at position 108, in place of threonine as in clone T9/94RC17, and it was thought that this difference might conceivably affect the rate of mutation to asparagine at this position). Clones TM4CB8-2.2.3 and G112CB1.1 also responded by developing gradually increased resistance to pyrimethamine. However, in clone TM4CB8-2.2.3 a single mutation from Ile to Met at position 164 in the DHFR gene sequence was identified, and in clone G112CB1.1 there was a single mutation from Ala to Ser at position 16, but no mutations at position 108 were obtained in any of the clones studied here. In addition, chromosome 4 of clone TM4CB8-2.2.3 increased in size, presumably due to amplification of the DHFR gene. No increase in size was seen in clone G112CB1.1. We conclude that whereas some mutations producing changes in the amino acid sequence of the DHFR molecule may occur occasionally in clones or populations of P. falciparum grown in vitro in the presence of pyrimethamine, amplification of the DHFR gene following adaptation to growth in medium containing pyrimethamine occurs as a regular feature. The bearing of these findings on the development of pyrimethamine-resistant forms of malaria parasites in endemic areas is discussed.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)59-70
Number of pages12
JournalExperimental Parasitology
Issue number2
Publication statusPublished - Jun 2001



  • Amino Acids
  • Animals
  • Antimalarials
  • Blotting, Southern
  • Culture Media
  • DNA, Protozoan
  • Drug Resistance
  • Electrophoresis, Gel, Pulsed-Field
  • Humans
  • Immunoblotting
  • Malaria, Falciparum
  • Plasmodium falciparum
  • Point Mutation
  • Polymerase Chain Reaction
  • Pyrimethamine
  • Tetrahydrofolate Dehydrogenase
  • Journal Article
  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

Cite this

Thaithong, S., Ranford-Cartwright, L. C., Siripoon, N., Harnyuttanakorn, P., Kanchanakhan, N. S., Seugorn, A., ... Beale, G. H. (2001). Plasmodium falciparum: gene mutations and amplification of dihydrofolate reductase genes in parasites grown in vitro in presence of pyrimethamine. Experimental Parasitology, 98(2), 59-70.