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Proc Natl Acad Sci U S A. 2005 Jan 18;102(3):814-9. Epub 2005 Jan 7.

A genetic approach to the de novo identification of targets of strain-specific immunity in malaria parasites.

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  • 1Institute of Immunology and Infection Research, Ashworth Laboratories, King's Buildings, University of Edinburgh, West Mains Road, Edinburgh EH9 3JT, United Kingdom.


Vaccine research in malaria has a high priority. However, identification of specific antigens as candidates for vaccines against asexual blood stages of malaria parasites has been based on largely circumstantial evidence. We describe here how genes encoding target antigens of strain-specific immunity in malaria can be directly located in the parasite's genome without prior information concerning their identity, by the method we call linkage group selection. Two genetically distinct clones of the rodent malaria parasite Plasmodium chabaudi chabaudi, each of which induces an immunity in laboratory mice that is more protective against challenge with itself than with the heterologous strain, were genetically crossed, and the uncloned cross progeny selected in mice that had been made partially immune by infection and drug cure with one or the other parental strain. Proportions of parental alleles in the selected and unselected cross progeny were compared by using quantitative genome-wide molecular markers. A small number, including groups of linked markers forming so-called selection valleys, were markedly reduced under strain-specific immune pressure. A very prominent selection valley was found to contain the gene for merozoite surface protein-1, a major candidate antigen for malaria vaccine development, at the locus at which the strongest reduction under strain-specific immune selection was detected. Closely linked to the merozoite surface protein-1 gene was a gene containing the signature motif of the ring-infected erythrocyte surface antigen family. Another affected locus, unlinked to this selection valley, contained a member of the serine repeat antigen gene family.

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