Variant surface antigen-specific IgG and protection against clinical consequences of pregnancy-associated Plasmodium falciparum malaria.
Staalsoe T., Shulman CE., Bulmer JN., Kawuondo K., Marsh K., Hviid L.
BACKGROUND: Pregnancy-associated malaria caused by Plasmodium falciparum adherence to chondroitin sulfate A in the placental intervillous space is a major cause of low birthweight and maternal anaemia in areas of endemic P falciparum transmission. Adhesion-blocking antibodies that specifically recognise parasite-encoded variant surface antigens (VSA) are associated with resistance to pregnancy-associated malaria. We looked for a possible relation between VSA-specific antibody concentrations, placental infection, and protection from low birthweight and maternal anaemia. METHODS: We used flow cytometry to measure VSA-specific IgG concentrations in plasma samples taken during child birth from 477 Kenyan women selected from a cohort of 910 women on the basis of HIV-1 status, gravidity, and placental histology. We measured VSA expressed by one placental P falciparum isolate and two isolates selected or not selected for chondroitin sulfate A adhesiveness in-vitro. FINDINGS: Concentrations of plasma IgG specific for VSA, expressed by chondroitin sulfate A-adhering parasites (VSA in pregnancy-associated malaria or vsa-pam), increased with gravidity and were associated with placental histological findings. Women with chronic pregnancy-associated malaria and low or absent VSA-PAM-specific IgG had lower haemoglobin values (reduced by 17 g/L; 95% CI 8.1-25.2) and delivered smaller babies (birthweight reduced by 0.26 kg; 0.10-0.55) than did corresponding women with high VSA-PAM-specific IgG. No such relation was shown for concentrations of IgG with specificity for non-pregnancy-associated malaria VSA. INTERPRETATION: VSA-PAM-specific IgG protects against low birthweight and maternal anaemia. Our data indicate an important mechanism of clinical protection against malaria and raise hope for the clinical effectiveness of a potential VSA-based vaccine against pregnancy-associated malaria.