Background Glucose-6-phosphate dehydrogenase (G6PD) activity is dependent upon G6PD genotype and age of the red blood cell (RBC) population, with younger RBCs having higher activity. Peripheral parasitemia with Plasmodium spp. induces hemolysis, replacing older RBCs with younger cells with higher G6PD activity. This study aimed to assess whether G6PD activity varies between individuals with and without malaria or a history of malaria.
Methods and findings Individuals living in the Chittagong Hill Tracts of Bangladesh were enrolled into 3 complementary studies: (i) a prospective, single-arm clinical efficacy trial of patients (n = 175) with uncomplicated malaria done between 2014 and 2015, (ii) a cross-sectional survey done between 2015 and 2016 (n = 999), and (iii) a matched case–control study of aparasitemic individuals with and without a history of malaria done in 2020 (n = 506). G6PD activity was compared between individuals with and without malaria diagnosed by microscopy, rapid diagnostic test (RDT), or polymerase chain reaction (PCR), and in aparasitemic participants with and without a history of malaria. In the cross-sectional survey and clinical trial, 15.5% (182/1,174) of participants had peripheral parasitemia detected by microscopy or RDT, 3.1% (36/1,174) were positive by PCR only, and 81.4% (956/1,174) were aparasitemic. Aparasitemic individuals had significantly lower G6PD activity (median 6.9 U/g Hb, IQR 5.2–8.6) than those with peripheral parasitemia detected by microscopy or RDT (7.9 U/g Hb, IQR 6.6–9.8, p < 0.001), but G6PD activity similar to those with parasitemia detected by PCR alone (submicroscopic parasitemia) (6.1 U/g Hb, IQR 4.8–8.6, p = 0.312). In total, 7.7% (14/182) of patients with malaria had G6PD activity < 70% compared to 25.0% (248/ 992) of participants with submicroscopic or no parasitemia (odds ratio [OR] 0.25, 95% CI 0.14–0.44, p < 0.001). In the case–control study, the median G6PD activity was 10.3 U/g Hb (IQR 8.8–12.2) in 253 patients with a history of malaria and 10.2 U/g Hb (IQR 8.7–11.8) in 253 individuals without a history of malaria (p = 0.323). The proportion of individuals with G6PD activity < 70% was 11.5% (29/253) in the cases and 15.4% (39/253) in the controls (OR 0.7, 95% CI 0.41–1.23, p = 0.192). Limitations of the study included the non-contemporaneous nature of the clinical trial and cross-sectional survey.
Conclusions Patients with acute malaria had significantly higher G6PD activity than individuals without malaria, and this could not be accounted for by a protective effect of G6PD deficiency. G6PD-deficient patients with malaria may have higher than expected G6PD enzyme activity and an attenuated risk of primaquine-induced hemolysis compared to the risk when not infected.