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PLoS One. 2013 Jul 4;8(7):e66115. doi: 10.1371/journal.pone.0066115. Print 2013.

Molecular analysis of non-specific protection against murine malaria induced by BCG vaccination.

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Center for Biologics Evaluation and Review, USFDA, Bethesda, Maryland, United States of America.


Although the effectiveness of BCG vaccination in preventing adult pulmonary tuberculosis (TB) has been highly variable, epidemiologic studies have suggested that BCG provides other general health benefits to vaccinees including reducing the impact of asthma, leprosy, and possibly malaria. To further evaluate whether BCG immunization protects against malarial parasitemia and to define molecular correlates of this non-specific immunity, mice were vaccinated with BCG and then challenged 2 months later with asexual blood stage Plasmodium yoelii 17XNL (PyNL) parasites. Following challenge with PyNL, significant decreases in parasitemia were observed in BCG vaccinated mice relative to naïve controls. To identify immune molecules that may be associated with the BCG-induced protection, gene expression was evaluated by RT-PCR in i) naïve controls, ii) BCG-vaccinated mice, iii) PyNL infected mice and iv) BCG vaccinated/PyNL infected mice at 0, 1, 5, and 9 days after the P. yoelii infection. The expression results showed that i) BCG immunization induces the expression of at least 18 genes including the anti-microbial molecules lactoferrin, eosinophil peroxidase, eosinophil major basic protein and the cathelicidin-related antimicrobial peptide (CRAMP); ii) an active PyNL infection suppresses the expression of important immune response molecules; and iii) the extent of PyNL-induced suppression of specific genes is reduced in BCG-vaccinated/PyNL infected mice. To validate the gene expression data, we demonstrated that pre-treatment of malaria parasites with lactoferrin or the cathelicidin LL-37 peptide decreases the level of PyNL parasitemias in mice. Overall, our study suggests that BCG vaccination induces the expression of non-specific immune molecules including antimicrobial peptides which may provide an overall benefit to vaccinees by limiting infections of unrelated pathogens such as Plasmodium parasites.

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