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BackgroundMalaria remains a major public health threat and tools sensitive to detect infections in low malaria transmission areas are needed to progress elimination efforts. Pregnant women are particularly vulnerable to malaria infections. Throughout pregnancy they access routine antenatal care, presenting a unique sentinel population to apply novel sero-surveillance tools to measure malaria transmission. The aim of this study was to quantify the dynamic antibody responses to multiple antigens during pregnancy so as to identify a single or multiple antibody response of exposure to malaria in pregnancy.MethodsThis study involved a secondary analysis of antibody responses to six parasite antigens [five commonly studied merozoite antigens and the variant surface antigen 2-chondroitin sulphate A (VAR2CSA), a pregnancy-specific erythrocytic antigen] measured by enzyme-linked immunosorbent assay (ELISA) over the gestation period until delivery (median of 7 measurements/woman) in 250 pregnant women who attended antenatal clinics located at the Thai-Myanmar border. A multivariate mixture linear mixed model was used to cluster the pregnant women into groups that have similar longitudinal antibody responses to all six antigens over the gestational period using a Bayesian approach. The variable-specific entropy was calculated to identify the antibody responses that have the highest influence on the classification of the women into clusters, and subsequent agreement with grouping of women based on exposure to malaria during pregnancy.ResultsOf the 250 pregnant women, 135 had a Plasmodium infection detected by light microscopy during pregnancy (39% Plasmodium falciparum only, 33% Plasmodium vivax only and 28% mixed/other species), defined as cases. The antibody responses to all six antigens accurately identified the women who did not have a malaria infection detected during pregnancy (93%, 107/115 controls). Antibody responses to P. falciparum merozoite surface protein 3 (PfMSP3) and P. vivax apical membrane antigen 1 (PvAMA1) were the least dynamic. Antibody responses to the antigens P. falciparum apical membrane antigen 1 (PfAMA1) and PfVAR2CSA were able to identify the majority of the cases more accurately (63%, 85/135).ConclusionThese findings suggest that the combination of antibodies, PfAMA1 and PfVAR2CSA, may be useful for sero-surveillance of malaria infections in pregnant women, particularly in low malaria transmission settings. Further investigation of other antibody markers is warranted considering these antibodies combined only detected 63% of the malaria infections during pregnancy.

Original publication





Malaria journal

Publication Date





Centre for Epidemiology and Biostatistics, Melbourne School of Population and Global Health, The University of Melbourne, Melbourne, Australia.


Humans, Plasmodium falciparum, Malaria, Malaria, Falciparum, Malaria, Vivax, Antibodies, Protozoan, Antigens, Protozoan, Bayes Theorem, Antibody Formation, Pregnancy, Pregnant Women, Female