Journal of the History of Biology

, Volume 44, Issue 4, pp 781-786

First online:

Malaria: Origin of the Term “Hypnozoite”

  • Miles B. MarkusAffiliated withImperial College LondonSchool of Animal, Plant and Environmental Sciences, University of Witwatersrand Email author 

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The term “hypnozoite” is derived from the Greek words hypnos (sleep) and zoon (animal). Hypnozoites are dormant forms in the life cycles of certain parasitic protozoa that belong to the Phylum Apicomplexa (Sporozoa) and are best known for their probable association with latency and relapse in human malarial infections caused by Plasmodium ovale and P. vivax. Consequently, the hypnozoite is of great biological and medical significance. This, in turn, makes the origin of the name “hypnozoite” a subject of interest. Some “missing” history that is now placed on record (including a letter written by P. C. C. Garnham, FRS) shows that Miles B. Markus coined the term “hypnozoite”. While a PhD student at Imperial College London, he carried out research that led to the identification of an apparently dormant form of Cystoisospora (synonym: Isospora). In 1976, he speculated: “If sporozoites of Isospora can behave in this fashion, then those of related Sporozoa, like malaria parasites, may have the ability to survive in the tissues in a similar way.” He adopted the term “hypnozoite” for malaria in 1978 when he wrote in a little-known journal that this name would “… describe any dormant sporozoites or dormant, sporozoite-like stages in the life cycles of Plasmodium or other Haemosporina.” At that time, the existence of a hypnozoite form in the life cycle of Plasmodium was still a hypothetical notion. In 1980, however, Wojciech A. Krotoski published (together with several co-workers) details concerning his actual discovery of malarial hypnozoites, an event of considerable importance.


hypnozoite Isospora malaria Plasmodium ovale Plasmodium vivax relapse