Identification of Plasmodium malariae, a human malaria parasite, in imported chimpanzees

Toshiyuki Hayakawa, Nobuko Arisue, Toshifumi Udono, Hirohisa Hirai, Jetsumon Sattabongkot, Tomoko Toyama, Takafumi Tsuboi, Toshihiro Horii, Kazuyuki Tanabe

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48 Citations (Scopus)


It is widely believed that human malaria parasites infect only man as a natural host. However, earlier morphological observations suggest that great apes are likely to be natural reservoirs as well. To identify malaria parasites in great apes, we screened 60 chimpanzees imported into Japan. Using the sequences of small subunit rRNA and the mitochondrial genome, we identified infection of Plasmodium malariae, a human malaria parasite, in two chimpanzees that were imported about thirty years ago. The chimpanzees have been asymptomatic to the present. In Japan, indigenous malaria disappeared more than fifty years ago; and thus, it is most likely inferred that the chimpanzees were infected in Africa, and P. malariae isolates were brought into Japan from Africa with their hosts, suggesting persistence of parasites at low level for thirty years. Such a long term latent infection is a unique feature of P. malariae infection in humans. To our knowledge, this is the first to report P. malariae infection in chimpanzees and a human malaria parasite from nonhuman primates imported to a nonendemic country.

Original languageEnglish
Article numbere7412
JournalPloS one
Issue number10
Publication statusPublished - Oct 12 2009
Externally publishedYes

All Science Journal Classification (ASJC) codes

  • General


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