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Serological responses and immunity to superinfection with avian malaria in experimentally-infected Hawaii Amakihi

January 1, 2001

Six of seven Hawaii Amakihi (Hemignathus virens) with chronic malarial infections had no increases in peripheral parasitemia, declines in food consumption, or loss of body weight when rechallenged with the homologous isolate of Plasmodium relictum 61 to 62 days after initial infection. Five uninfected control amakihi exposed at the same time to infective mosquito bites developed acute infections with high parasitemias. Reductions in food consumption and loss of body weight occurred in all control birds and three of these individuals eventually died. When surviving birds were rechallenged >2 yr later with either the same parasite isolate or an isolate of P. relictum collected on the island of Kauai, all individuals were immune to superinfection. Chronically infected birds developed antibodies to a common suite of malarial antigens ranging in size from 22 to 170 kDa that were detectable as early as 8 days post infection on immunoblots of SDS-polyacrylamide gels. Antibodies to this suite of malarial antigens persisted as long as 1,248 days after initial infection and were consistently detectable at times when parasites were not easily found by microscopy on Giemsa-stained blood smears. The immunoblotting method that is described here appears to be an effective technique for identifying birds with chronic, low-intensity malarial infections when circulating parasites are not easily detectable by microscopy. Hawaiian honeycreepers that are capable of recovering from acute infections develop concomitant immunity to superinfection, making them functionally immune in areas where malaria transmission has become endemic.