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Am J Trop Med Hyg. 2018 Jul;99(1):43-50. doi: 10.4269/ajtmh.17-0737. Epub 2018 May 24.

Extent and Dynamics of Polymorphism in the Malaria Vaccine Candidate Plasmodium falciparum Reticulocyte-Binding Protein Homologue-5 in Kalifabougou, Mali.

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Malaria Research and Training Center, University of Sciences, Techniques and Technology, Bamako, Mali.
Division of Malaria Research, Institute for Global Health, University of Maryland School of Medicine, Baltimore, Maryland.
Laboratory of Immunogenetics, National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases, National Institutes of Health, Rockville, Maryland.
Division of Infectious Diseases, Department of Medicine, Indiana University School of Medicine, Indianapolis, Indiana.
School of Medicine, Meharry Medical College, Nashville, Tennessee.
Institute for Genome Sciences, University of Maryland Baltimore, Baltimore, Maryland.
Duke University, Durham North Carolina.


Reticulocyte-binding homologues (RH) are a ligand family that mediates merozoite invasion of erythrocytes in Plasmodium falciparum. Among the five members of this family identified so far, only P. falciparum reticulocyte-binding homologue-5 (PfRH5) has been found to be essential for parasite survival across strains that differ in virulence and route of host-cell invasion. Based on its essential role in invasion and early evidence of sequence conservation, PfRH5 has been prioritized for development as a vaccine candidate. However, little is known about the extent of genetic variability of RH5 in the field and the potential impact of such diversity on clinical outcomes or on vaccine evasion. Samples collected during a prospective cohort study of malaria incidence conducted in Kalifabougou, in southwestern Mali, were used to estimate genetic diversity, measure haplotype prevalence, and assess the within-host dynamics of PfRH5 variants over time and in relation to clinical malaria. A total of 10 nonsynonymous polymorphic sites were identified in the Pfrh5 gene, resulting in 13 haplotypes encoding unique protein variants. Four of these variants have not been previously observed. Plasmodium falciparum reticulocyte-binding homologue-5 had low amino acid haplotype (h = 0.58) and nucleotide (π = 0.00061) diversity. By contrast to other leading blood-stage malaria vaccine candidate antigens, amino acid differences were not associated with changes in the risk of febrile malaria in consecutive infections. Conserved B- and T-cell epitopes were identified. These results support the prioritization of PfRH5 for possible inclusion in a broadly cross-protective vaccine.

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