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PLoS One. 2010 Feb 16;5(2):e9230. doi: 10.1371/journal.pone.0009230.

Differential recognition of P. falciparum VAR2CSA domains by naturally acquired antibodies in pregnant women from a malaria endemic area.

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Department of Microbiology, Tumor and Cell Biology, Karolinska Institutet, Stockholm, Sweden.



Plasmodium falciparum infected red blood cells (iRBC) express variant surface antigens (VSA) of which VAR2CSA is involved in placental sequestration and causes pregnancy-associated malaria (PAM). Primigravidae are most susceptible to PAM whereas antibodies associated with protection are often present at higher levels in multigravid women. However, HIV co-infection with malaria has been shown to alter this parity-dependent acquisition of immunity, with more severe symptoms as well as more malaria episodes in HIV positive women versus HIV negative women of a similar parity.


Using VAR2CSA DBL-domains expressed on the surface of CHO-745 cells we quantified levels of DBL-domain specific IgG in sera from pregnant Malawian women by flow cytometry. Dissociations constants of DBL5epsilon specific antibodies were determined using a surface plasmon resonance technique, as an indication of antibody affinities.


VAR2CSA DBL5epsilon was recognized in a gender and parity-dependent manner with anti-DBL5epsilon IgG correlating significantly with IgG levels to VSA-PAM on the iRBC surface. HIV positive women had lower levels of anti-DBL5epsilon IgG than HIV negative women of similar parity. In primigravidae, antibodies in HIV positive women also showed significantly lower affinity to VAR2CSA DBL5epsilon.


Pregnant women from a malaria-endemic area had increased levels of anti-DBL5epsilon IgG by parity, indicating this domain of VAR2CSA to be a promising vaccine candidate against PAM. However, it is important to consider co-infection with HIV, as this seems to change the properties of antibody response against malaria. Understanding the characteristics of antibody response against VAR2CSA is undoubtedly imperative in order to design a functional and efficient vaccine against PAM.

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