Understanding why some malaria-infected individuals are infective to mosquitoes while others are not, is of great importance when considering interventions to stop malaria transmission. Whether gametocytes are produced in every individual infected with Plasmodium falciparum remains unclear. Using a highly sensitive reverse transcription (RT)-PCR assay, we attempted to detect gametocyte-specific mRNA transcripts in isolates from Thai patients which newly adapted to continuous in vitro culture. We then compared the allelic types of the pfg377 gene between patient blood and culture-adapted parasites in order to determine whether the same parasite lines were producing gametocytes in vivo and in vitro. Transcripts of pfg377 were detected in all parasite isolates and in the corresponding cultured isolates, revealing that all patients had gametocytes circulating in their blood at the time of sampling. For isolates in continuous in vitro culture, there was a match between pfg377 allelic types detected by PCR from genomic DNA (and thus indicative of the dominant allelic type of asexual parasites) and those detected by RT-PCR of mRNA (gametocyte-specific), whereas in freshly isolated patient blood there were some differences between the asexual parasite allelic type and that of the gametocytes in the same infection. Seven isolates contained asexual stage parasites harbouring pfg377 alleles that were not detectable in gametocytes from the same infections, suggesting that some clones were not producing gametocytes at the time of sampling, or that they were below the level of detection.
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