Global selection of Plasmodium falciparum virulence antigen expression by host antibodies
Abdi AI., Warimwe GM., Muthui MK., Kivisi CA., Kiragu EW., Fegan GW., Bull PC.
AbstractParasite proteins called PfEMP1 that are inserted on the surface of infected erythrocytes, play a key role in the severe pathology associated with infection by the Plasmodium falciparum malaria parasite. These proteins mediate binding of infected cells to the endothelial lining of blood vessels as a strategy to avoid clearance by the spleen and are major targets of naturally acquired immunity. PfEMP1 is encoded by a large multi-gene family called var. Mutually-exclusive transcriptional switching between var genes allows parasites to escape host antibodies. This study examined in detail the patterns of expression of var in a well-characterized sample of parasites from Kenyan Children. Instead of observing clear inverse relationships between the expression of broad sub-classes of PfEMP1, we found that expression of different PfEMP1 groups vary relatively independently. Parasite adaptation to host antibodies also appears to involve a general reduction in detectable var gene expression. We suggest that parasites switch both between different PfEMP1 variants and between high and low expression states. Such a strategy could provide a means of avoiding immunological detection and promoting survival under high levels of host immunity.