Human Immunization With a Polymorphic Malaria Vaccine Candidate Induced Antibodies to Conserved Epitopes That Promote Functional Antibodies to Multiple Parasite Strains

Feng G, Boyle MJ, Cross N, Chan JA, Reiling L, Osier F, Stanisic DI, Mueller I, Anders RF, McCarthy JS, Richards JS, Beeson JG
J Infect Dis. 2018;218

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Background: Overcoming antigenic diversity is a key challenge in the development of effective Plasmodium falciparum malaria vaccines. Strategies that promote the generation of antibodies targeting conserved epitopes of vaccine antigens may provide protection against diverse parasites strains. Understanding differences between vaccine-induced and naturally acquired immunity is important to achieving this goal. Methods: We analyzed antibodies generated in a phase 1 human vaccine trial, MSP2-C1, which included 2 allelic forms of MSP2, an abundant vaccine antigen on the merozoite surface. Vaccine-induced responses were assessed for functional activity against multiple parasite strains, and cross-reactivity of antibodies was determined using competition ELISA and epitope mapping approaches. Results: Vaccination induced cytophilic antibody responses with strain-transcending opsonic phagocytosis and complement-fixing function. In contrast to antibodies acquired via natural infection, vaccine-induced antibodies were directed towards conserved epitopes at the C-terminus of MSP2, whereas naturally acquired antibodies mainly targeted polymorphic epitopes. Functional activity of C-terminal-targeted antibodies was confirmed using monoclonal antibodies that promoted opsonic phagocytosis against multiple parasite strains. Conclusion: Vaccination generated markedly different responses to polymorphic antigens than naturally acquired immunity and targeted conserved functional epitopes. Induction of antibodies targeting conserved regions of malaria antigens provides a promising vaccine strategy to overcome antigenic diversity for developing effective malaria vaccines.