Low Immunogenicity of a Plasmodium vivax Circumsporozoite Protein Epitope Bound by a Protective Monoclonal Antibody

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  • Naval Medical Research Institute, National Institutes of Health Research and Development, Walter Reed Army Institute of Research, Rockville, Maryland, Indonesia
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The repeat region of the Plasmodium vivax circumsporozoite (CS) protein contains 20 copies of the nine-amino acid sequence DRA A/D GQPAG. A monoclonal antibody that passively protects monkeys against sporozoite challenge recognizes a four-amino acid linear sequence AGDR included within this nonamer, but when monkeys were immunized with a vaccine, NS181 V20, which contains 20 copies of the nonamer, they failed to produce antibodies to AGDR. To determine if natural exposure to sporozoites induces antibodies to AGDR, we tested sera from 176 individuals from a malaria-endemic area in Flores, Indonesia. Seventy-one percent of the adults had antibodies to the P. vivax repeat region; only 18% had detectable antibodies to AGDR. None of the subjects had antibodies to the P. vivax variant repeat ANGAGNQPG. We next tested sera from six human volunteers immunized with NS181 V20 and found that the vaccine, despite inducing antibodies against the nonamer, as it did in the monkeys, did not induce antibodies against AGDR. To further test our ability to raise anti-AGDR antibodies using synthetic peptides, we immunized Aotus monkeys and BALB/c mice with AGDR. Sera from the mice reacted strongly with both AGDR and a recombinant protein containing the 20 copies of the nonamer. Sera from the monkeys reacted only minimally with a protein (VIVAX-1) that contains monomeric AGDR within its sequence. Sera from the mice also bound air-dried P. vivax sporozoites, while sera from the monkeys did not. These data indicate that natural exposure induces very low levels of antibodies to the CS protein epitope AGDR, and that polyclonal antibodies that recognize native CS protein can be induced experimentally with a synthetic AGDR peptide.