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BACKGROUND: Plasmodium falciparum and Plasmodium vivax infections compromise dendritic cell (DC) function and expand regulatory T (Treg) cells in both clinical disease (malaria) and experimental human sub-microscopic infection. Conversely, in asymptomatic microscopy-positive (patent) P. falciparum or P. vivax infection in endemic areas, blood DC increase or retain HLA-DR expression and Treg cells exhibit reduced activation, suggesting that DC and Treg cells contribute to the control of patent asymptomatic infection. The effect of sub-microscopic (sub-patent) asymptomatic Plasmodium infection on DC and Treg cells in malaria-endemic area residents remains unclear. METHODS: In a cross-sectional household survey conducted in Papua, Indonesia, 162 asymptomatic adults were prospectively evaluated for DC and Treg cells using field-based flow cytometry. Of these, 161 individuals (99 %) were assessed retrospectively by polymerase chain reaction (PCR), 19 of whom had sub-microscopic infection with P. falciparum and 15 with sub-microscopic P. vivax infection. Flow cytometric data were re-analysed after re-grouping asymptomatic individuals according to PCR results into negative controls, sub-microscopic and microscopic parasitaemia to examine DC and Treg cell phenotype in sub-microscopic infection. RESULTS: Asymptomatic adults with sub-microscopic P. falciparum or P. vivax infection had DC HLA-DR expression and Treg cell activation comparable to PCR-negative controls. Sub-microscopic P. falciparum infection was associated with lower peripheral CD4(+) T cells and lymphocytes, however sub-microscopic Plasmodium infection had no apparent effect on DC sub-set number or Treg cell frequency. CONCLUSIONS: In contrast to the impairment of DC maturation/function and the activation of Treg cells seen with sub-microscopic parasitaemia in primary experimental human Plasmodium infection, no phenotypic evidence of dysregulation of DC and Treg cells was observed in asymptomatic sub-microscopic Plasmodium infection in Indonesian adults. This is consistent with DC and Treg cells retaining their functional capacity in sub-microscopic asymptomatic infection with P. falciparum or P. vivax in malaria-endemic areas.

Original publication




Journal article


Malar J

Publication Date





Adults, Asymptomatic, Clinical immunity, Dendritic cell, Falciparum, Human, Malaria, Regulatory T cell, Sub-microscopic, Vivax, Adult, Asymptomatic Infections, Cross-Sectional Studies, Dendritic Cells, Family Characteristics, Female, Flow Cytometry, Humans, Indonesia, Malaria, Falciparum, Malaria, Vivax, Male, Polymerase Chain Reaction, Prospective Studies, Retrospective Studies, T-Lymphocytes, Regulatory, Young Adult