In northern Papua New Guinea (PNG), most Plasmodium falciparum isolates proved resistant to chloroquine (CQ) in vitro between 2005 and 2007, and there was near-fixation of pfcrt K76T, pfdhfr C59R/S108N and pfmdr1 N86Y. To determine whether the subsequent introduction of artemisinin combination therapy (ACT) and reduced CQ-sulphadoxine-pyrimethamine pressure had attenuated parasite drug susceptibility and resistance-associated mutations, these parameters were re-assessed between 2011 and 2013.
A validated fluorescence-based assay was used to assess growth inhibition of 52 P. falciparum isolates from children in a clinical trial in Madang Province. Responses to CQ, lumefantrine, piperaquine, naphthoquine, pyronaridine, artesunate, dihydroartemisinin, artemether were assessed. Molecular resistance markers were detected using a multiplex PCR ligase detection reaction fluorescent microsphere assay.
CQ resistance (in vitro concentration required for 50% parasite growth inhibition (IC50) >100 nM) was present in 19% of isolates. All piperaquine and naphthoquine IC50s were <100 nM and those for lumefantrine, pyronaridine and the artemisinin derivatives were in low nM ranges. Factor analysis of IC50s showed three groupings (lumefantrine; CQ, piperaquine, naphthoquine; pyronaridine, dihydroartemisinin, artemether, artesunate). Most isolates (96%) were monoclonal pfcrt K76T (SVMNT) mutants and most (86%) contained pfmdr1 N86Y (YYSND). No wild-type pfdhfr was found but most isolates contained wild-type (SAKAA) pfdhps. Compared with 2005–2007, the geometric mean (95% CI) CQ IC50 was lower (87 (71–107) vs 167 (141–197) nM) and there had been no change in the prevalence of pfcrt K76T or pfmdr1 mutations. There were fewer isolates of the pfdhps (SAKAA) wild-type (60 vs 100%) and pfdhfr mutations persisted.
Reflecting less drug pressure, in vitro CQ sensitivity appears to be improving in Madang Province despite continued near-fixation of pfcrt K76T and pfmdr1 mutations. Temporal changes in IC50s for other anti-malarial drugs were inconsistent but susceptibility was preserved. Retention or increases in pfdhfr and pfdhps mutations reflect continued use of sulphadoxine-pyrimethamine in the study area including through paediatric intermittent preventive treatment. The susceptibility of local isolates to lumefantrine may be unrelated to those of other ACT partner drugs.