Plasmodium-associated changes in human odor attract mosquitoes

Ailie Robinson*, Annette O. Busula, Mirjam A. Voets, Khalid B. Beshir, John C. Caulfield, Stephen J. Powers, Niels O. Verhulst, Peter Winskill, Julian Muwanguzi, Michael A. Birkett, Renate C. Smallegange, Daniel K. Masiga, W.R. Mukabana, Robert W. Sauerwein, Colin J. Sutherland, Teun Bousema, John A. Pickett, Willem Takken, James G. Logan, Jetske G. De Boer

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticleAcademicpeer-review

89 Citations (Scopus)


Malaria parasites (Plasmodium) can change the attractiveness of their vertebrate hosts to Anopheles vectors, leading to a greater number of vector–host contacts and increased transmission. Indeed, naturally Plasmodium-infected children have been shown to attract more mosquitoes than parasite-free children. Here, we demonstrate Plasmodium-induced increases in the attractiveness of skin odor in Kenyan children and reveal quantitative differences in the production of specific odor components in infected vs. parasite-free individuals. We found the aldehydes heptanal, octanal, and nonanal to be produced in greater amounts by infected individuals and detected by mosquito antennae. In behavioral experiments, we demonstrated that these, and other, Plasmodium-induced aldehydes enhanced the attractiveness of a synthetic odor blend mimicking “healthy” human odor. Heptanal alone increased the attractiveness of “parasite-free” natural human odor. Should the increased production of these aldehydes by Plasmodium-infected humans lead to increased mosquito biting in a natural setting, this would likely affect the transmission of malaria.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)E4209-E4218
JournalProceedings of the National Academy of Sciences of the United States of America
Issue number18
Publication statusPublished - 1 May 2018


  • Aldehydes
  • Disease biomarkers
  • Host attractiveness
  • Malaria transmission
  • Parasite–vector–host interactions


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