An effective blood-stage vaccine against Plasmodium falciparum remains a research priority, but the number of antigens that have been translated into multicomponent vaccines for testing in clinical trials remains limited. Investigating the large number of potential targets found in the parasite proteome has been constrained by an inability to produce natively folded recombinant antigens for immunological studies. We overcame these constraints by generating a large library of biochemically active merozoite surface and secreted full-length ectodomain proteins. We then systematically examined the antibody reactivity against these proteins in a cohort of Kenyan children (n = 286) who were sampled at the start of a malaria transmission season and prospectively monitored for clinical episodes of malaria over the ensuing 6 months. We found that antibodies to previously untested or little-studied proteins had superior or equivalent potential protective efficacy to the handful of current leading malaria vaccine candidates. Moreover, cumulative responses to combinations comprising 5 of the 10 top-ranked antigens, including PF3D7_1136200, MSP2, RhopH3, P41, MSP11, MSP3, PF3D7_0606800, AMA1, Pf113, and MSRP1, were associated with 100% protection against clinical episodes of malaria. These data suggest not only that there are many more potential antigen candidates for the malaria vaccine development pipeline but also that effective vaccination may be achieved by combining a selection of these antigens.
BackgroundPolymorphism in antigens is a common mechanism for immune evasion used by many important pathogens, and presents major challenges in vaccine development. In malaria, many key immune targets and vaccine candidates show substantial polymorphism. However, knowledge on antigenic diversity of key antigens, the impact of polymorphism on potential vaccine escape, and how sequence polymorphism relates to antigenic differences is very limited, yet crucial for vaccine development. Plasmodium falciparum apical membrane antigen 1 (AMA1) is an important target of naturally-acquired antibodies in malaria immunity and a leading vaccine candidate. However, AMA1 has extensive allelic diversity with more than 60 polymorphic amino acid residues and more than 200 haplotypes in a single population. Therefore, AMA1 serves as an excellent model to assess antigenic diversity in malaria vaccine antigens and the feasibility of multi-allele vaccine approaches. While most previous research has focused on sequence diversity and antibody responses in laboratory animals, little has been done on the cross-reactivity of human antibodies.MethodsWe aimed to determine the extent of antigenic diversity of AMA1, defined by reactivity with human antibodies, and to aid the identification of specific alleles for potential inclusion in a multi-allele vaccine. We developed an approach using a multiple-antigen-competition enzyme-linked immunosorbent assay (ELISA) to examine cross-reactivity of naturally-acquired antibodies in Papua New Guinea and Kenya, and related this to differences in AMA1 sequence.ResultsWe found that adults had greater cross-reactivity of antibodies than children, although the patterns of cross-reactivity to alleles were the same. Patterns of antibody cross-reactivity were very similar between populations (Papua New Guinea and Kenya), and over time. Further, our results show that antigenic diversity of AMA1 alleles is surprisingly restricted, despite extensive sequence polymorphism. Our findings suggest that a combination of three different alleles, if selected appropriately, may be sufficient to cover the majority of antigenic diversity in polymorphic AMA1 antigens. Antigenic properties were not strongly related to existing haplotype groupings based on sequence analysis.ConclusionsAntigenic diversity of AMA1 is limited and a vaccine including a small number of alleles might be sufficient for coverage against naturally-circulating strains, supporting a multi-allele approach for developing polymorphic antigens as malaria vaccines.
Epilepsy is common in developing countries, and it is often associated with parasitic infections. We investigated the relationship between exposure to parasitic infections, particularly multiple infections and active convulsive epilepsy (ACE), in five sites across sub-Saharan Africa.
An understanding of the mechanisms mediating protective immunity against malaria in humans is currently lacking, but critically important to advance the development of highly efficacious vaccines. Antibodies play a key role in acquired immunity, but the functional basis for their protective effect remains unclear. Furthermore, there is a strong need for immune correlates of protection against malaria to guide vaccine development.
The development of protective vaccines against many difficult infectious pathogens will necessitate the induction of effective antibody responses. Here we assess humoral immune responses against two antigens from the blood-stage merozoite of the Plasmodium falciparum human malaria parasite--MSP1 and AMA1. These antigens were delivered to healthy malaria-naïve adult volunteers in Phase Ia clinical trials using recombinant replication-deficient viral vectors--ChAd63 to prime the immune response and MVA to boost. In subsequent Phase IIa clinical trials, immunized volunteers underwent controlled human malaria infection (CHMI) with P. falciparum to assess vaccine efficacy, whereby all but one volunteer developed low-density blood-stage parasitemia. Here we assess serum antibody responses against both the MSP1 and AMA1 antigens following i) ChAd63-MVA immunization, ii) immunization and CHMI, and iii) primary malaria exposure in the context of CHMI in unimmunized control volunteers. Responses were also assessed in a cohort of naturally-immune Kenyan adults to provide comparison with those induced by a lifetime of natural malaria exposure. Serum antibody responses against MSP1 and AMA1 were characterized in terms of i) total IgG responses before and after CHMI, ii) responses to allelic variants of MSP1 and AMA1, iii) functional growth inhibitory activity (GIA), iv) IgG avidity, and v) isotype responses (IgG1-4, IgA and IgM). These data provide the first in-depth assessment of the quality of adenovirus-MVA vaccine-induced antibody responses in humans, along with assessment of how these responses are modulated by subsequent low-density parasite exposure. Notable differences were observed in qualitative aspects of the human antibody responses against these malaria antigens depending on the means of their induction and/or exposure of the host to the malaria parasite. Given the continued clinical development of viral vectored vaccines for malaria and a range of other diseases targets, these data should help to guide further immuno-monitoring studies of vaccine-induced human antibody responses.
Malaria, an infectious disease caused by parasites of the Plasmodium genus, is one of the worlds major public health concerns causing up to a million deaths annually, mostly because of P. falciparum infections. All of the clinical symptoms are associated with the blood stage of the disease, an obligate part of the parasite life cycle, when a form of the parasite called the merozoite recognizes and invades host erythrocytes. During erythrocyte invasion, merozoites are directly exposed to the host humoral immune system making the blood stage of the parasite a conceptually attractive therapeutic target. Progress in the functional and molecular characterization of P. falciparum merozoite proteins, however, has been hampered by the technical challenges associated with expressing these proteins in a biochemically active recombinant form. This challenge is particularly acute for extracellular proteins, which are the likely targets of host antibody responses, because they contain structurally critical post-translational modifications that are not added by some recombinant expression systems. Here, we report the development of a method that uses a mammalian expression system to compile a protein resource containing the entire ectodomains of 42 P. falciparum merozoite secreted and cell surface proteins, many of which have not previously been characterized. Importantly, we are able to recapitulate known biochemical activities by showing that recombinant MSP1-MSP7 and P12-P41 directly interact, and that both recombinant EBA175 and EBA140 can bind human erythrocytes in a sialic acid-dependent manner. Finally, we use sera from malaria-exposed immune adults to profile the relative immunoreactivity of the proteins and show that the majority of the antigens contain conformational (heat-labile) epitopes. We envisage that this resource of recombinant proteins will make a valuable contribution toward a molecular understanding of the blood stage of P. falciparum infections and facilitate the comparative screening of antigens as blood-stage vaccine candidates.
Elucidating the mechanisms of naturally acquired immunity to Plasmodium falciparum infections would be highly valuable for malaria vaccine development. Asymptomatic multiclonal infections have been shown to predict protection from clinical malaria in a transmission-dependent manner, but the mechanisms underlying this are unclear. We assessed the breadth of antibody responses to several vaccine candidate merozoite antigens in relation to the infecting parasite population and clinical immunity.
Prospective studies continue to identify malaria parasite genes with particular patterns of polymorphism which indicate they may be under immune selection, and the encoded proteins require investigation. Sixteen new recombinant protein reagents were designed to characterize three such polymorphic proteins expressed in Plasmodium falciparum schizonts and merozoites: MSPDBL1 (also termed MSP3.4) and MSPDBL2 (MSP3.8), which possess Duffy binding-like (DBL) domains, and SURFIN4.2, encoded by a member of the surface-associated interspersed (surf) multigene family. After testing the antigenicities of these reagents by murine immunization and parasite immunofluorescence, we analyzed naturally acquired antibody responses to the antigens in two cohorts in coastal Kenya in which the parasite was endemic (Chonyi [n = 497] and Ngerenya [n = 461]). As expected, the prevalence and levels of serum antibodies increased with age. We then investigated correlations with subsequent risk of clinical malaria among children <11 years of age during 6 months follow-up surveillance. Antibodies to the polymorphic central region of MSPDBL2 were associated with reduced risk of malaria in both cohorts, with statistical significance remaining for the 3D7 allelic type after adjustment for individuals ages in years and antibody reactivity to whole-schizont extract (Chonyi, risk ratio, 0.51, and 95% confidence interval [CI], 0.28 to 0.93; Ngerenya, risk ratio, 0.38, and 95% CI, 0.18 to 0.82). For the MSPDBL1 Palo Alto allelic-type antigen, there was a protective association in one cohort (Ngerenya, risk ratio, 0.53, and 95% CI, 0.32 to 0.89), whereas the other antigens showed no protective associations after adjustment. These findings support the prediction that antibodies to the polymorphic region of MSPDBL2 contribute to protective immunity.
Plasmodium falciparum malaria remains a major cause of illness and death in sub-Saharan Africa. Young children bear the brunt of the disease and though older children and adults suffer relatively fewer clinical attacks, they remain susceptible to asymptomatic P. falciparum infection. A better understanding of the host factors associated with immunity to clinical malaria and the ability to sustain asymptomatic P. falciparum infection will aid the development of improved strategies for disease prevention.
Antibodies to selected Plasmodium falciparum merozoite antigens are often reported to be associated with protection from malaria in one epidemiological cohort, but not in another. Here, we sought to understand this paradox by exploring the hypothesis that a threshold concentration of antibodies is necessary for protection. We analyzed data from two independent cohorts along the Kenyan coast, one in which antibodies to AMA1, MSP-2 and MSP-3 were associated with protection from malaria (Chonyi) and another in which this association was not observed (Junju). We used a malaria reference reagent to standardize antibody measurements across both cohorts, and applied statistical methods to derive the threshold concentration of antibodies against each antigen that best correlated with a reduced risk of malaria (the protective threshold), in the Chonyi cohort. We then tested whether antibodies in Junju reached the protective threshold concentrations observed in the Chonyi cohort. Except for children under 3 years, the age-matched proportions of children achieving protective threshold concentrations of antibodies against AMA1 and MSP-2 were significantly lower in Junju compared to Chonyi (Fishers exact test, P<0.01). For MSP-3, this difference was significant only among 4-5 year olds. We conclude that although antibodies are commonly detected in malaria endemic populations, they may be present in concentrations that are insufficient for protection. Our results have implications for the analysis and interpretation of similar data from immuno-epidemiological studies.
Children in malaria endemic areas acquire immunity to severe malaria faster than to mild malaria. Only a minority of children suffers from severe malaria and it is not known what determines this. The aim of this study was to establish how P. falciparum infections during the first years of life affect the risk of severe malaria. A matched case-control study was nested within a large birth cohort set up to study the immunoepidemiology of pneumococci on the Kenyan coast. Infection patterns in three-monthly blood samples in cohort children admitted to hospital with severe malaria were compared to controls matched on age, residential location and time of sampling. P. falciparum detected at least once from birth conferred an increased risk of severe malaria and particularly if multiclonal infections, as characterized by genotyping of a polymorphic antigen gene, were ever detected. The results show for the first time that children with severe malaria have more infections early in life compared to community controls. These findings provide important insights on the immunity to severe disease, knowledge essential for the development of a vaccine against severe malaria.
Current vaccine strategies against the asexual blood stage of Plasmodium falciparum are mostly focused on well-studied merozoite antigens that induce immune responses after natural exposure, but have yet to induce robust protection in any clinical trial. Here we compare human-compatible viral-vectored vaccines targeting ten different blood-stage antigens. We show that the full-length P. falciparum reticulocyte-binding protein homologue 5 (PfRH5) is highly susceptible to cross-strain neutralizing vaccine-induced antibodies, out-performing all other antigens delivered by the same vaccine platform. We find that, despite being susceptible to antibody, PfRH5 is unlikely to be under substantial immune selection pressure; there is minimal acquisition of anti-PfRH5 IgG antibodies in malaria-exposed Kenyans. These data challenge the widespread beliefs that any merozoite antigen that is highly susceptible to immune attack would be subject to significant levels of antigenic polymorphism, and that erythrocyte invasion by P. falciparum is a degenerate process involving a series of parallel redundant pathways.
Although Plasmodium falciparum apical membrane antigen 1 (AMA1) is a leading malaria vaccine candidate, extensive allelic diversity may compromise its vaccine potential. We have previously shown that naturally acquired antibodies to AMA1 were associated with protection from clinical malaria in this Kenyan population. To assess the impact of allelic diversity on naturally acquired immunity, we first sequenced the ectodomain-encoding region of P. falciparum ama1 from subjects with asymptomatic, mild, and severe malaria and measured allele frequency distributions. We then measured antibodies to three allelic AMA1 proteins (AMA1_3D7, AMA1_FVO, and AMA1_HB3) and used competition enzyme-linked immunosorbent assays (ELISAs) to analyze allele-specific antibodies. Seventy-eight unique haplotypes were identified from 129 alleles sampled. No clustering of allelic haplotypes with disease severity or year of sampling was observed. Differences in nucleotide frequencies in clinical (severe plus mild malaria) versus asymptomatic infections were observed at 16 polymorphic positions. Allele frequency distributions were indicative of balancing selection, with the strongest signature being identified in domain III (Tajimas D = 2.51; P < 0.05). Antibody reactivities to each of the three allelic AMA1 proteins were highly correlated (P < 0.001 for all pairwise comparisons). Although antibodies to conserved epitopes were abundant, 48% of selected children with anti-AMA1 IgG (n = 106) had detectable reactivity to allele-specific epitopes as determined by a competition ELISA. Antibodies to both conserved and allele-specific epitopes in AMA1 may contribute to clinical protection.
Infectious diseases often demonstrate heterogeneity of transmission among host populations. This heterogeneity reduces the efficacy of control strategies, but also implies that focusing control strategies on "hotspots" of transmission could be highly effective.
Human immunodeficiency virus (HIV) infection, malnutrition, and invasive bacterial infection (IBI) are reported among children with severe malaria. However, it is unclear whether their cooccurrence with falciparum parasitization and severe disease happens by chance or by association among children in areas where malaria is endemic.
A major handicap in developing a malaria vaccine is the difficulty in pinpointing the immune responses that protect against malaria. The protective efficacy of natural or vaccine-induced immune responses against malaria is normally assessed by relating the level of the responses in an individual at the beginning of a follow-up period and the individuals experience of malaria infection or disease during the follow-up. This approach has identified a number of important responses against malaria, but their protective efficacies vary considerably between studies.
Plasmodium falciparums ability to invade erythrocytes is essential for its survival within the human host. Immune mechanisms that impair this ability are therefore expected to contribute to immunity against the parasite. Plasma of humans who are naturally exposed to malaria has been shown to have growth-inhibitory activity (GIA) in vitro. However, the importance of GIA in relation to protection from malaria has been unclear. In a case-control study nested within a longitudinally followed population in Tanzania, plasma samples collected at baseline from 171 individuals (55 cases and 116 age-matched controls) were assayed for GIA using three P. falciparum lines (3D7, K1, and W2mef) chosen based on their erythrocyte invasion phenotypes. Distribution of GIA differed between the lines, with most samples inhibiting the growth of 3D7 and K1 and enhancing the growth of W2mef. GIA to 3D7 was associated with a reduced risk of malaria within 40 weeks of follow-up (odds ratio, 0.45; 95% confidence interval [CI], 0.21 to 0.96; P = 0.04), whereas GIA to K1 and W2mef was not. These results show that GIA, as well as its association with protection from malaria, is dependent on the P. falciparum line and can be explained by differences in erythrocyte invasion phenotypes between parasite lines. Our study contributes knowledge on the biological importance of growth inhibition and the potential influence of P. falciparum erythrocyte invasion phenotypic differences on its relationship to protective immunity against malaria.
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