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Clin Microbiol Rev. 2002 Jul;15(3):355-64.

Cultivation of plasmodium spp.

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Viral and Rickettsial Disease Laboratory, State of California Department of Health Services, Richmond, California 94804, USA.


Cultivation of both human and non-human species of Plasmodium spp., the causal agent of malaria, has been a major research success, leading to a greater understanding of the parasite. Efforts at cultivating the organisms in vitro are complicated by the parasites' alternating between a human host and an arthropod vector, each having its own set of physiological, metabolic, and nutritional parameters. Life cycle stages of the four species that infect humans have been established in vitro. Of these four, P. falciparum remains the only species for which all stages have been cultured in vitro; different degrees of success have been achieved with the other human Plasmodium spp. The life cycle includes the exoerythrocytic stage (within liver cells), the erythrocytic stage (within erythrocytes or precursor reticulocytes), and the sporogonic stage (within the vector). Culture media generally consist of a basic tissue culture medium (e.g., minimal essential medium or RPMI 1640) to which serum and erythrocytes are added. Most of the efforts have been directed toward the stage found in the erythrocyte. This stage has been cultivated in petri plates or other growth vessels in a candle jar to generate elevated CO(2) levels or in a more controlled CO(2) atmosphere. Later developments have employed continuous-flow systems to reduce the labor-intensive nature of medium changing. The exoerythrocytic and sporogonic life cycle stages have also been cultivated in vitro. A number of avian, rodent, and simian malarial parasites have also been established in vitro. Although cultivation is of great help in understanding the biology of Plasmodium, it does not lend itself to use for diagnostic purposes.

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