Measuring the Plasmodium falciparum HRP2 protein in blood from artesunate-treated malaria patients predicts post-artesunate delayed hemolysis
Artesunate, the recommended drug for severe malaria, rapidly clears the malaria parasite from infected patients but frequently induces anemia—called post-artesunate delayed hemolysis (PADH)—for which a simple predictive test is urgently needed. The underlying event in PADH is the expulsion of artesunate-exposed parasites from their host erythrocytes by pitting. We show that the histidine-rich protein 2 (HRP2) of the malaria parasite Plasmodium falciparum persists in the circulation of artesunate-treated malaria patients in Bangladesh and in French travelers who became infected with malaria in Africa. HRP2 persisted in whole blood (not plasma) of artesunate-treated patients with malaria at higher levels compared to quinine-treated patients. Using an optimized membrane permeabilization method, HRP2 was observed by immunofluorescence, Western blotting, and electron microscopy to persist in once-infected red blood cells from artesunate-treated malaria patients. HRP2 was deposited at the membrane of once-infected red blood cells in a pattern similar to that for ring erythrocyte surface antigen (RESA), a parasite invasion marker. On the basis of these observations, we developed a semiquantitative titration method using a widely available HRP2-based rapid diagnostic dipstick test. Positivity on this test using a 1:500 dilution of whole blood from artesunate-treated patients with malaria collected shortly after parasite clearance predicted subsequent PADH with 89% sensitivity and 73% specificity. These results suggest that adapting an existing HRP2-based rapid diagnostic dipstick test may enable prediction of PADH several days before it occurs in artesunate-treated patients with malaria.