An analysis of Plasmodium falciparum-specific antibodies was performed in pairs of maternal and cord sera from Gabon, a region endemic for malaria. All paired sera (n = 59) had P. falciparum-specific antibodies. Immunofluorescence assays detected parasite-specific IgG1, IgG2, and IgG3 in 100% of the tested pairs (n = 26) and IgG4 in 42% of them. The titers of specific IgG2 and IgG3 were significantly lower in cord than in maternal sera. All maternal sera had specific IgM. Of the seven P. falciparum-IgM positive cord sera, six were associated with malaria-related histological placental changes (MRHPC). In addition, higher titers of specific IgG1 in maternal and cord sera and of specific IgG3 in cord sera were associated with MRHPC.
Similar P. falciparum antigens were recognized by cord and corresponding maternal sera in radioimmunoprecipitation and Western blot assays (n = 40). Sixteen of 20 cord sera and 15 of 20 paired maternal sera significantly inhibited in vitro parasite growth. The extent of inhibition did not correlate with the titer of specific antibodies.
These data confirm the very effective placental transfer of anti-malarial antibodies. The presence of IgM in some cord sera raise the question of intrauterine sensitization to malaria antigens.