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PLoS One. 2019 Oct 10;14(10):e0223410. doi: 10.1371/journal.pone.0223410. eCollection 2019.

Malawian children with uncomplicated and cerebral malaria have decreased activated Vγ9Vδ2 γδ T cells which increase in convalescence.

Author information

Biomedical Sciences Department, College of Medicine, University of Malawi, Blantyre, Malawi.
Malawi-Liverpool Wellcome Trust Clinical Research Programme, Blantyre, Malawi.
Blantyre Malaria Project, Blantyre, Malawi.
Department of Medicine at the Doherty Institute, University of Melbourne, Melbourne, Australia.
University of South Florida, Tampa, Florida, United States of America.
Department of Infectious Diseases, Monash University, Melbourne, Australia.
School of Health and Biomedical Sciences, RMIT University, Melbourne, Australia.
Michigan State University, East Lansing, Michigan, United States of America.
Academy of Medical Sciences, Malawi University of Science and Technology, Thyolo, Malawi.


Malaria is responsible for almost half a million deaths annually. The role of Vγ9Vδ2 γδ T cells in malaria is still unclear. Studies have reported an association between this cell subset and malaria symptoms and severity. Profiles of Vγ9Vδ2 γδ T cells in bigger cohorts with different levels of clinical severity have not been described. Proportion, numbers, and activation status of Vγ9Vδ2 γδ T cells were measured by flow cytometry in 59 healthy controls (HCs), 58 children with uncomplicated malaria (UM) and 67 with cerebral malaria (CM,) during acute malaria and in convalescence 28 days later. Vγ9Vδ2 γδ T cell were lower in children presenting with UM and CM than in HCs. Cell counts did not vary with malaria severity (CM median counts 40 x 103 cells/μL, IQR [23-103]; UM median counts 30 x 103 cells/μL [10-90], P = 0.224). Vγ9Vδ2 γδ T cell counts increased during convalescence for UM (70 [40-60] x 103 cells/μL and CM (90 [60-140] x 103 cells/μL), to levels similar to those in HCs (70 [50-140] x 103 cells/μL), p = 0.70 and p = 0.40 respectively. Expression of the activation markers CD69 and HLA-DR on Vγ9Vδ2 γδ T cells was higher in malaria cases than in controls (HCs vs UM or CM, p < 0.0001) but was similar between UM and CM. HLA-DR expression remained elevated at 28 days, suggesting sustained activation of Vγ9Vδ2 γδ T cells during recovery. Vγ9Vδ2 γδ T cell proportions and cells counts were suppressed in acute disease and normalized in convalescence, a phenomenon previously hypothesized to be due to transient migration of the cells to secondary lymphoid tissue. The presence of highly activated Vγ9Vδ2 γδ T cells suggests that this T cell subset plays a specific role in response to malaria infection.

Conflict of interest statement

The authors have declared that no competing interests exist.

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