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Parasitology. 2001 May;122(Pt 5):497-505.

Mutation rates in the dihydrofolate reductase gene of Plasmodium falciparum.

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  • 1The University of Queensland and the Malaria and Arbovirus Unit, Queensland Institute of Medical Research, Australia.


A new method has been established to define the limits on a spontaneous mutation rate for a gene in Plasmodium falciparum. The method combines mathematical modelling and large-scale in vitro culturing and calculates the difference in mutant frequencies at 2 separate time-points. We measured the mutation rate at 2 positions in the dihydrofolate reductase (DHFR) gene of 3D7, a pyrimethamine-sensitive line of P. falciparum. This line was re-cloned and an effectively large population was treated with a selective pyrimethamine concentration of 40 nM. We detected point mutations at codon-46 (TTA to TCA) and codon-108 (AGC to AAC), resulting in serine replacing leucine and asparagine replacing serine respectively in the corresponding gene product. The substitutions caused a decrease in pyrimethamine sensitivity. By mathematical modelling we determined that the mutation rate at a given position in DHFR was low and occurred at less than 2.5 x 10(-9) mutations/DHFR gene/replication. This result has important implications for Plasmodium genetic diversity and antimalarial drug therapy by demonstrating that even with low mutation rates anti-malarial resistance will inevitably arise when mutant alleles are selected under drug pressure.

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