Characterization of Naturally Acquired Immunity to a Panel of Antigens Expressed in Mature P. falciparum Gametocytes.
INTRODUCTION: Naturally acquired immune responses against antigens expressed on the surface of mature gametocytes develop in individuals living in malaria-endemic areas. Evidence suggests that such anti-gametocyte immunity can block the development of the parasite in the mosquito, thus playing a role in interrupting transmission. A better comprehension of naturally acquired immunity to these gametocyte antigens can aid the development of transmission-blocking vaccines and improve our understanding of the human infectious reservoir. METHODS: Antigens expressed on the surface of mature gametocytes that had not previously been widely studied for evidence of naturally acquired immunity were identified for protein expression alongside Pfs230-C using either the mammalian HEK293E or the wheat germ cell-free expression systems. Where there was sequence variation in the candidate antigens (3D7 vs a clinical isolate PfKE04), both variants were expressed. ELISA was used to assess antibody responses against these antigens, as well as against crude stage V gametocyte extract (GE) and AMA1 using archived plasma samples from individuals recruited to participate in malaria cohort studies. We analyzed antibody levels (estimated from optical density units using a standardized ELISA) and seroprevalence (defined as antibody levels greater than three standard deviations above the mean levels of a pool of malaria naïve sera). We described the dynamics of antibody responses to these antigens by identifying factors predictive of antibody levels using linear regression models. RESULTS: Of the 25 antigens selected, seven antigens were produced successfully as recombinant proteins, with one variant antigen, giving a total of eight proteins for evaluation. Antibodies to the candidate antigens were detectable in the study population (N = 216), with seroprevalence ranging from 37.0% (95% CI: 30.6%, 43.9%) for PSOP1 to 77.8% (95% CI: 71.6%, 83.1%) for G377 (3D7 variant). Responses to AMA1 and GE were more prevalent than those to the gametocyte proteins at 87.9% (95% CI: 82.8%, 91.9%) and 88.3% (95% CI: 83.1%, 92.4%), respectively. Additionally, both antibody levels and breadth of antibody responses were associated with age and concurrent parasitaemia. CONCLUSION: Age and concurrent parasitaemia remain important determinants of naturally acquired immunity to gametocyte antigens. Furthermore, we identify novel candidates for transmission-blocking activity evaluation.