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What is Plasmodium Vivax? - Life Cycle & Morphology

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  • 0:00 Intro on Malaria Parasites
  • 0:38 Human Liver Stage Infection
  • 1:53 Human Blood Stage Infection
  • 2:49 Mosquito Stage Infection
  • 3:27 Lesson Summary
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Lesson Transcript
Instructor: Bridgett Payseur

Bridgett has a PhD in microbiology and immunology and teaches college biology.

Plasmodium vivax is a parasite that causes human malaria. It cycles between human and mosquito hosts to replicate. This lesson will talk about how P. vivax goes through this life cycle, and what makes it unique from other human malaria parasites.

Intro on Malaria Parasites

Malaria is one of the top three leading causes of death due to infectious disease worldwide. It is an infection that affects red blood cells, caused by several species of Plasmodium parasites. Malaria is most common in warm, humid climates with large mosquito populations.

While Plasmodium vivax is not the most lethal of the human malaria parasites, it is the most common. While it shares a similar life cycle with the other human malaria parasites, P. vivax has several unique features of its life cycle that complicate diagnosis and treatment.

Human Liver Stage Infection

Once inside a human host, P. vivax parasites first go to infect liver cells. An infected liver cell, called a schizont, is like a training facility (you can remember this because schizont and school start with the same three letters). In the schizont, the parasites will undergo asexual reproduction, meaning they will create duplicates of themselves. As many as 30,000 new parasites can be formed in the schizont. When they are fully trained and ready to go, the schizont will break open, releasing the newly trained parasites, now termed merozoites.

One of the unique features of P. vivax happens during the liver stage. Unlike the more lethal malaria parasite P. falciparum, P. vivax can become latent in the liver. That is, it can almost hibernate, avoiding host defenses, until it's a better time to start a blood stage infection. These hibernating cells are called hypnozoites. We can remember this because it is almost as if the parasite is hypnotized, or asleep, while waiting for a chance to launch its attack. It's possible for a patient to go to an area with a high malaria prevalence, return home, and then not show malaria symptoms for several years. This makes diagnosis particularly difficult.

Human Blood Stage Infection

The merozoites will leave the liver to begin their attack on the red blood cells. Once inside a red blood cell, the parasite again changes its name and is now known as a trophozoite. It's almost as if the infected red blood cell is a 'trophy' for the trophozoites. Inside the red blood cell, the trophozoites again reproduce, making even more copies to infect even more red blood cells.

Despite being the most common human malaria parasite, P. vivax is not able to infect all humans. P. vivax is only able to infect red blood cells that have a protein on them called the Duffy antigen. The Duffy antigen is similar to the ABO or Rh proteins found on blood cells. It's either there, or it isn't. P. vivax is not able to infect cells that don't have the Duffy antigen. Because of this, it's not prevalent in Western Africa, because many people lack the Duffy antigen.

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