Heritability of Plasmodium parasite density in a rural Ugandan community

Pullan RL, Bukirwa H, Snow RW, Brooker S
Am J Trop Med Hyg. 2010;83

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Many factors influence variation in Plasmodium infection levels, including parasite/host genetics, immunity, and exposure. Here, we examine the roles of host genetics and exposure in determining parasite density, and test whether effects differ with age. Data for 1,711 residents of an eastern Ugandan community were used in pedigree-based variance component analysis. Heritability of parasite density was 13% (P < 0.001) but was not significant after controlling for shared household. Allowing variance components to vary between children (< 16 years) and adults (>/= 16 years) revealed striking age differences; 26% of variation could be explained by additively acting genes in children (P < 0.001), but there was no genetic involvement in adults. Domestic environment did not explain variation in children and explained 5% in adults (P = 0.09). Genetic effects are an important determinant of parasite density in children in this population, consistent with previous quantitative genetic studies of Plasmodium parasitaemia, although differences in environmental exposure play a lesser role.