Cross-reactive immune responses as primary drivers of malaria chronicity.
ABSTRACT: The within-host dynamics of an infection with the malaria parasite Plasmodium falciparum are the result of a complex interplay between the host immune system and parasite. Continual variation of the P. falciparum erythrocyte membrane protein (PfEMP1) antigens displayed on the surface of infected red blood cells enables the parasite to evade the immune system and prolong infection. Despite the importance of antigenic variation in generating the dynamics of infection, our understanding of the mechanisms by which antigenic variation generates long-term chronic infections is still limited. We developed a model to examine the role of cross-reactivity in generating infection dynamics that are comparable to those of experimental infections. The hybrid computational model we developed is attuned to the biology of malaria by mixing discrete replication events, which mimics the synchrony of parasite replication and invasion, with continuous interaction with the immune system. Using simulations, we evaluated the dynamics of a single malaria infection over time. We then examined three major mechanisms by which the dynamics of a malaria infection can be structured: cross-reactivity of the immune response to PfEMP1, differences in parasite clearance rates, and heterogeneity in the rate at which antigens switch. The results of our simulations demonstrate that cross-reactive immune responses play a primary role in generating the dynamics observed in experimentally untreated infections and in lengthening the period of infection. Importantly, we also find that it is the primary response to the initially expressed PfEMP1, or small subset thereof, that structures the cascading cross-immune dynamics and allows for elongation of the infection.
Project description:Acquired immunity to Plasmodium falciparum infection causes a change from frequent, sometimes life-threatening, malaria in young children to asymptomatic, chronic infections in older children and adults. Little is known about how this transition occurs but antibodies to the extremely diverse PfEMP1 parasite antigens are thought to play a role. PfEMP1 is encoded by a family of 60 var genes that undergo clonal antigenic variation, potentially creating an antigenically heterogeneous infecting population of parasites within the host. Previous theoretical work suggests that antibodies to PfEMP1 may play a role in "orchestrating" their expression within infections leading to sequential, homogeneous expression of var genes, and prolonged infection chronicity. Here, using a cloning and sequencing approach we compare the var expression homogeneity (VEH) between isolates from children with asymptomatic and clinical infections. We show that asymptomatic infections have higher VEH than clinical infections and a broader host antibody response. We discuss this in relation to the potential role of host antibodies in promoting chronicity of infection and parasite survival through the low transmission season.
Project description:The pathogenesis of Plasmodium falciparum malaria is linked to the variant surface antigen PfEMP1, which mediates tethering of infected erythrocytes to the host endothelium and is encoded by approximately 60 var genes per parasite genome. Repeated episodes of malaria infection result in the gradual acquisition of protective antibodies against PfEMP1 variants. The antibody repertoire is believed to provide a selective pressure driving the clonal expansion of parasites expressing unrecognized PfEMP1 variants, however, due to the lack of experimental in vivo models there is only limited experimental evidence in support of this concept. To get insight into the impact of naturally acquired immunity on the expressed var gene repertoire early during infection we performed controlled human malaria infections of 20 adult African volunteers with life-long malaria exposure using aseptic, purified, cryopreserved P. falciparum sporozoites (Sanaria PfSPZ Challenge) and correlated serological data with var gene expression patterns from ex vivo parasites. Among the 10 African volunteers who developed patent infections, individuals with low antibody levels showed a steep rise in parasitemia accompanied by broad activation of multiple, predominantly subtelomeric var genes, similar to what we previously observed in naïve volunteers. In contrast, individuals with intermediate antibody levels developed asymptomatic infections and the ex vivo parasite populations expressed only few var gene variants, indicative of clonal selection. Importantly, in contrast to parasites from naïve volunteers, expression of var genes coding for endothelial protein C receptor (EPCR)-binding PfEMP1 that are associated with severe childhood malaria was rarely detected in semi-immune adult African volunteers. Moreover, we followed var gene expression for up to six parasite replication cycles and demonstrated for the first time in vivo a shift in the dominant var gene variant. In conclusion, our data suggest that P. falciparum activates multiple subtelomeric var genes at the onset of blood stage infection facilitating rapid expansion of parasite clones which express PfEMP1 variants unrecognized by the host's immune system, thus promoting overall parasite survival in the face of host immunity.
Project description:Plasmodium falciparum erythrocyte membrane protein 1 (PfEMP1) is considered to be the main variant surface antigen (VSA) of Plasmodium falciparum and is mainly localized on electron-dense knobs in the membrane of the infected erythrocyte. Switches in PfEMP1 expression provide the basis for antigenic variation and are thought to be critical for parasite persistence during chronic infections. Recently, strain transcending anti-PfEMP1 immunity has been shown to develop early in life, challenging the role of PfEMP1 in antigenic variation during chronic infections. In this work we investigate how P. falciparum achieves persistence during a chronic asymptomatic infection. The infected individual (MOA) was parasitemic for 42 days and multilocus var gene genotyping showed persistence of the same parasite population throughout the infection. Parasites from the beginning of the infection were adapted to tissue culture and cloned by limiting dilution. Flow cytometry using convalescent serum detected a variable surface recognition signal on isogenic clonal parasites. Quantitative real-time PCR with a field isolate specific var gene primer set showed that the surface recognition signal was not correlated with transcription of individual var genes. Strain transcending anti-PfEMP1 immunity of the convalescent serum was demonstrated with CD36 selected and PfEMP1 knock-down NF54 clones. In contrast, knock-down of PfEMP1 did not have an effect on the antibody recognition signal in MOA clones. Trypsinisation of the membrane surface proteins abolished the surface recognition signal and immune electron microscopy revealed that antibodies from the convalescent serum bound to membrane areas without knobs and with knobs. Together the data indicate that PfEMP1 is not the main variable surface antigen during a chronic infection and suggest a role for trypsin sensitive non-PfEMP1 VSAs for parasite persistence in chronic infections.
Project description:Antibody immunity is thought to be essential to prevent severe Plasmodium falciparum infection, but the exact correlates of protection are unknown. Over time, children in endemic areas acquire non-sterile immunity to malaria that correlates with development of antibodies to merozoite invasion proteins and parasite proteins expressed on the surface of infected erythrocytes.A 1000 feature P. falciparum 3D7 protein microarray was used to compare P. falciparum-specific seroreactivity during acute infection and 30 days after infection in 23 children with uncomplicated malaria (UM) and 25 children with retinopathy-positive cerebral malaria (CM). All children had broad P. falciparum antibody reactivity during acute disease. IgM reactivity decreased and IgG reactivity increased in convalescence. Antibody reactivity to CIDR domains of "virulent" PfEMP1 proteins was low with robust reactivity to the highly conserved, intracellular ATS domain of PfEMP1 in both groups. Although children with UM and CM differed markedly in parasite burden and PfEMP1 exposure during acute disease, neither acute nor convalescent PfEMP1 seroreactivity differed between groups. Greater seroprevalence to a conserved Group A-associated ICAM binding extracellular domain was observed relative to linked extracellular CIDR?1 domains in both case groups. Pooled immune IgG from Malawian adults revealed greater reactivity to PfEMP1 than observed in children.Children with uncomplicated and cerebral malaria have similar breadth and magnitude of P. falciparum antibody reactivity. The utility of protein microarrays to measure serological recognition of polymorphic PfEMP1 antigens needs to be studied further, but the study findings support the hypothesis that conserved domains of PfEMP1 are more prominent targets of cross reactive antibodies than variable domains in children with symptomatic malaria. Protein microarrays represent an additional tool to identify cross-reactive Plasmodium antigens including PfEMP1 domains that can be investigated as strain-transcendent vaccine candidates.
Project description:Understanding the targets and mechanisms of human immunity to malaria caused by Plasmodium falciparum is crucial for advancing effective vaccines and developing tools for measuring immunity and exposure in populations. Acquired immunity to malaria predominantly targets the blood stage of infection when merozoites of Plasmodium spp. infect erythrocytes and replicate within them. During the intra-erythrocytic development of P. falciparum, numerous parasite-derived antigens are expressed on the surface of infected erythrocytes (IEs). These antigens enable P. falciparum-IEs to adhere in the vasculature and accumulate in multiple organs, which is a key process in the pathogenesis of disease. IE surface antigens, often referred to as variant surface antigens, are important targets of acquired protective immunity and include PfEMP1, RIFIN, STEVOR and SURFIN. These antigens are highly polymorphic and encoded by multigene families, which generate substantial antigenic diversity to mediate immune evasion. The most important immune target appears to be PfEMP1, which is a major ligand for vascular adhesion and sequestration of IEs. Studies are beginning to identify specific variants of PfEMP1 linked to disease pathogenesis that may be suitable for vaccine development, but overcoming antigenic diversity in PfEMP1 remains a major challenge. Much less is known about other surface antigens, or antigens on the surface of gametocyte-IEs, the effector mechanisms that mediate immunity, and how immunity is acquired and maintained over time; these are important topics for future research.
Project description:Antibodies to polymorphic antigens expressed during the parasites erythrocytic stages are important mediators of protective immunity against P. falciparum malaria. Therefore, polymorphic blood stage antigens like MSP3, EBA-175 and GLURP and variant surface antigens PfEMP1 and RIFIN are considered vaccine candidates. However, to what extent these antibodies to blood stage antigens are acquired during naive individuals' first infections has not been studied in depth. Using plasma samples collected from controlled experimental P. falciparum infections we show that antibodies against variant surface antigens, PfEMP1 and RIFIN as well as MSP3 and GLURP, are acquired during a single short low density P. falciparum infection in non-immune individuals including strain transcendent PfEMP1 immune responses. These data indicate that the immunogenicity of the variant surface antigens is similar to the less diverse merozoite antigens. The acquisition of a broad and strain transcendent repertoire of PfEMP1 antibodies may reflect a parasite strategy of expressing most or all PfEMP1 variants at liver release optimizing the likelihood of survival and establishment of chronic infections in the new host.
Project description:Epigenetic processes are the main conductors of phenotypic variation in eukaryotes. The malaria parasite Plasmodium falciparum employs antigenic variation of the major surface antigen PfEMP1, encoded by 60 var genes, to evade acquired immune responses. PfEMP1 also mediates sequestration of infected erythrocytes in the microvasculature, which is directly linked to severe malaria outcomes. Antigenic variation of PfEMP1 occurs through in situ switches in mono-allelic var gene transcription, which is PfSIR2-dependent and associated with the presence of repressive H3K9me3 marks at silenced loci. Here, we show that the P. falciparum ortholog of heterochromatin protein 1 (PfHP1) binds to H3K9me3 and constitutes a major component of heterochromatin in perinuclear chromosome end clusters. High-resolution genome-wide chromatin immuno-precipitation demonstrates the striking association of PfHP1 with non-syntenic virulence gene arrays in subtelomeric and chromosome-internal islands. These include not only var genes but the majority of P. falciparum lineage-specific gene families coding for exported proteins involved in host-parasite interactions. Over-expression of PfHP1 resulted in decreased expression of a small number of (virulance) genes and indicated the presence of well-defined heterochromatic boundaries.. In summary, we uncover an unprecedented function of HP1 as a mayor regulator of virulence gene silencing and phenotypic variation, which will be instrumental for our understanding of this widely used survival strategy of unicellular pathogens. Overall design: One experimental sample.
Project description:BACKGROUND: The evolutionary mechanisms structuring the expression pattern of variant surface antigen (VSA) families that allow pathogens to evade immune responses and establish chronic and repeated infections pose major challenges to theoretical research. In Plasmodium falciparum, the best-studied VSA family is erythrocyte membrane protein 1 (PfEMP1). Each parasite genome encodes about 60 PfEMP1 variants, which are important virulence factors and major targets of host antibody responses. Transcriptional switching is the basis of clonal PfEMP1 variation and immune evasion. A relatively conserved subset of PfEMP1 variants tends to dominate in non-immune patients and in patients with severe malaria, while more diverse subsets relate to uncomplicated infection and higher levels of pre-existing protective immunity. METHODOLOGY/PRINCIPAL FINDINGS: Here, we use the available molecular and serological evidence regarding VSAs, in particular PfEMP1, to formulate a mathematical model of the evolutionary mechanisms shaping VSA organization and expression patterns. The model integrates the transmission dynamics between hosts and the competitive interactions within hosts, based on the hypothesis that the VSAs can be organized into so-called dominance blocks, which characterize their competitive potential. The model reproduces immunological trends observed in field data, and predicts an evolutionary stable balance between inter-clonally conserved dominance blocks that are highly competitive within-host and diverse blocks that are favoured by immune selection at the population level. CONCLUSIONS/SIGNIFICANCE: The application of a monotonic dominance profile to VSAs encoded by a gene family generates two opposing selective forces and, consequently, two distinct clusters of genes emerge in adaptation to naïve and partially immune hosts, respectively.
Project description:Many questions remain about P. falciparum within-host dynamics, immunity, and transmission-issues that may affect public health campaign planning. These gaps in knowledge concern the distribution of durations of malaria infections, determination of peak parasitemia during acute infection, the relationships among gametocytes and immune responses and infectiousness to mosquitoes, and the effect of antigenic structure on reinfection outcomes. The present model of intra-host dynamics of P. falciparum implements detailed representations of parasite and immune dynamics, with structures based on minimal extrapolations from first-principles biology in its foundations. The model is designed to quickly and readily accommodate gains in mechanistic understanding and to evaluate effects of alternative biological hypothesis through in silico experiments. Simulations follow the parasite from the liver-stage through the detailed asexual cycle to clearance while tracking gametocyte populations. The modeled immune system includes innate inflammatory and specific antibody responses to a repertoire of antigens. The mechanistic focus provides clear explanations for the structure of the distribution of infection durations through the interaction of antigenic variation and innate and adaptive immunity. Infectiousness to mosquitoes appears to be determined not only by the density of gametocytes but also by the level of inflammatory cytokines, which harmonizes an extensive series of study results. Finally, pre-existing immunity can either decrease or increase the duration of infections upon reinfection, depending on the degree of overlap in antigenic repertoires and the strength of the pre-existing immunity.
Project description:Many pathogenic bacteria, fungi, and protozoa achieve chronic infection through an immune evasion strategy known as antigenic variation. In the human malaria parasite Plasmodium falciparum, this involves transcriptional switching among members of the var gene family, causing parasites with different antigenic and phenotypic characteristics to appear at different times within a population. Here we use a genome-wide approach to explore this process in vitro within a set of cloned parasite populations. Our analyses reveal a non-random, highly structured switch pathway where an initially dominant transcript switches via a set of switch-intermediates either to a new dominant transcript, or back to the original. We show that this specific pathway can arise through an evolutionary conflict in which the pathogen has to optimise between safeguarding its limited antigenic repertoire and remaining capable of establishing infections in non-naïve individuals. Our results thus demonstrate a crucial role for structured switching during the early phases of infections and provide a unifying theory of antigenic variation in P. falciparum malaria as a balanced process of parasite-intrinsic switching and immune-mediated selection.