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Positively Selected G6PD-Mahidol Mutation Reduces Plasmodium vivax Density in Southeast Asians

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Science  11 Dec 2009:
Vol. 326, Issue 5959, pp. 1546-1549
DOI: 10.1126/science.1178849

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Ghosts of Selection

Glucose-6-phosphate dehydrogenase (G6PD) deficiency is the most common enzyme deficiency of humans, and it has been long suspected to exert an effect on Plasmodium falciparum malaria in Africa. Likewise, the increase in prevalence of the G6PD-Mahidol 487A allele among Karen people in Thailand, who only in the past few thousand years have migrated into malarious zones, may be the result of selection by Plasmodium vivax malaria. P. vivax has recently been implicated in more severe disease than previously suspected, providing both a direct selective effect through mortality and an indirect selective effect through morbidity and reproductive failure. Louicharoen et al. (p. 1546) link population-genetic evidence for positive selection in an 8-year family-based study of 3000 Karen individuals and reveal that there is an association between the presence of the G6PD-Mahidol 487A allele and a reduction in the density of P. vivax parasites circulating in the bloodstreams of infected individuals. The mutation appears to exert its effect on the physiology of immature red blood cells, which are the preferred niche for P. vivax but not of P. falciparum.