Electronic supplementary material
The online version of this article (https://doi.org/10.1186/s12916-018-1045-3) contains supplementary material, which is available to authorized users.
Methylene blue (MB) was the first synthetic antimalarial to be discovered and was used during the late 19th and early 20th centuries against all types of malaria. MB has been shown to be effective in inhibiting Plasmodium falciparum in culture, in the mouse model and in rhesus monkeys. MB was also shown to have a potent ex vivo activity against drug-resistant isolates of P. falciparum and P. vivax. In preclinical studies, MB acted synergistically with artemisinin derivates and demonstrated a strong effect on gametocyte reduction in P. falciparum. MB has, thus, been considered a potentially useful partner drug for artemisinin-based combination therapy (ACT), particularly when elimination is the final goal. The aim of this study was to review the scientific literature published until early 2017 to summarise existing knowledge on the efficacy and safety of MB in the treatment of malaria.
This systematic review followed PRISMA guidelines. Studies reporting on the efficacy and safety of MB were systematically searched for in relevant electronic databases according to a pre-designed search strategy. The search (without language restrictions) was limited to studies of humans published until February 2017.
Out of 474 studies retrieved, a total of 22 articles reporting on 21 studies were eligible for analysis. The 21 included studies that reported data on 1504 malaria patients (2/3 were children). Older studies were case series and reports on MB monotherapy while recent studies were mainly controlled trials of combination regimens. MB was consistently shown to be highly effective in all endemic areas and demonstrated a strong effect on P. falciparum gametocyte reduction and synergy with ACT. MB treatment was associated with mild urogenital and gastrointestinal symptoms as well as blue coloration of urine. In G6PD-deficient African individuals, MB caused a slight but clinically non-significant haemoglobin reduction.
More studies are needed to define the effects of MB in P. falciparum malaria in areas outside Africa and against P. vivax malaria. Adding MB to ACT could be a valuable approach for the prevention of resistance development and for transmission reduction in control and elimination programs.
Systematic review registration
This study is registered at PROSPERO (registration number CRD42017062349).