Plasmodium falciparum variant erythrocyte surface antigens: a pilot study of antibody acquisition in recurrent natural infections.

23 Nov 2017

BACKGROUND: During intra-erythrocytic replication Plasmodium falciparum escapes the human host immune system by switching expression of variant surface antigens (VSA). Piecemeal acquisition of variant specific antibody responses to these antigens as a result of exposure to multiple re-infections has been proposed to play a role in acquisition of naturally acquired immunity. METHODS: Immunofluorescence was used to explore the dynamics of anti-VSA IgG responses generated by children to (i) primary malaria episodes and (ii) recurrent P. falciparum infections. RESULTS: Consistent with previous studies on anti-VSA responses, sera from each child taken at the time of recovery from their respective primary infection tended to recognize their own secondary parasites poorly. Additionally, compared to patients with reinfections by parasites of new merozoite surface protein 2 (MSP2) genotypes, baseline sera sampled from patients with persistent infections (recrudescence) tended to have higher recognition of heterologous parasites. This is consistent with the prediction that anti-VSA IgG responses may play a role in promoting chronic asymptomatic infections. CONCLUSIONS: This pilot study validates the utility of recurrent natural malaria infections as a functional readout for examining the incremental acquisition of immunity to malaria.