Lactic acid supplementation increases quantity and quality of gametocytes in plasmodium falciparum culture

Rachel West, David J. Sullivan

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


Malaria infection by Plasmodium falciparum continues to afflict millions of people worldwide, with transmission being dependent upon mosquito ingestion of the parasite gametocyte stage. These sexually committed stages develop from the asexual stages, yet the factors behind this transition are not completely understood. Here, we found that lactic acid increases gametocyte quantity and quality in P. falciparum culture. Low-passage-number NF54 parasites exposed to 8.2 mM lactic acid for various times were monitored using blood film gametocyte counts and RNA analysis throughout 2 weeks of gametocyte development in vitro for a total of 5 biological cohorts. We found that daily continuous medium exchange and 8.2 mM lactic acid supplementation increased gametocytemia approximately 2- to 6-fold relative to controls after 5 days. In membrane feeding mosquito infection experiments, we found that gametocytes continuously exposed to 8.2 mM lactic acid supplementations were more infectious to Anopheles stephensi mosquitoes, essentially doubling prevalence of infected midguts and oocyst density. Supplementation on days 9 to 16 did not increase the quantity of gametocytes but did increase quality, as measured by oocyst density, by 2.4-fold. Lactic acid did not impact asexual growth, as measured by blood film counts and luciferase quantification, as well as radioactive hypoxanthine incorporation assays. These data indicate a novel role for lactic acid in sexual development of the parasite.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Article numbere00635-20
JournalInfection and immunity
Issue number1
StatePublished - Jan 2021
Externally publishedYes


  • Gametocyte
  • Lactic acid
  • Malaria

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Parasitology
  • Microbiology
  • Immunology
  • Infectious Diseases


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