The evolution of pyrimethamine resistant dhfr in Plasmodium falciparum of south-eastern Tanzania: comparing selection under SP alone vs SP+artesunate combination.
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BACKGROUND: Sulphadoxine-pyrimethamine (SP) resistance is now widespread throughout east and southern Africa and artemisinin compounds in combination with synthetic drugs (ACT) are recommended as replacement treatments by the World Health Organization (WHO). As well as high cure rates, ACT has been shown to slow the development of resistance to the partner drug in areas of low to moderate transmission. This study looked for evidence of protection of the partner drug in a high transmission African context. The evaluation was part of large combination therapy pilot implementation programme in Tanzania, the Interdisciplinary Monitoring Programme for Antimalarial Combination Therapy (IMPACT-TZ) METHODS: The growth of resistant dhfr in a parasite population where SP Monotherapy was the first-line treatment was measured for four years (2002-2006), and compared with the development of resistant dhfr in a neighbouring population where SP + artesunate (SP+AS) was used as the first-line treatment during the same interval. The effect of the differing treatment regimes on the emergence of resistance was addressed in three ways. First, by looking at the rate of increase in frequency of pre-existing mutant dhfr alleles under monotherapy and combination therapy. Second, by examining whether de-novo mutant alleles emerged under either treatment. Finally, by measuring diversity at three dhfr flanking microsatellite loci upstream of the dhfr gene. RESULTS: The reduction in SP selection pressure resulting from the adoption of ACT slowed the rate of increase in the frequency of the triple mutant resistant dhfr allele. Comparing between the two populations, the higher levels of genetic diversity in sequence flanking the dhfr triple mutant allele in the population where the ACT regimen had been used indicates the reduction in SP selection pressure arising from combination therapy. CONCLUSION: The study demonstrated that, alleles containing two mutations at the dhfr have arisen at least four times independently while those containing triple mutant dhfr arose only once, and were found carrying a single unique Asian-type flanking sequence, which apparently drives the spread of pyrimethamine resistance associated dhfr alleles in east Africa. SP+AS is not recommended for use in areas where SP cure rates are less than 80% but this study reports an observed principle of combination protection from an area where pyrimethamine resistance was already high.