Malaria parasites are frequently polymorphic at the antigenic targets of many candidate vaccines, presumably as a consequence of selection pressure from protective immune responses. Conventional wisdom is therefore that vaccines directed against a single variant could select for non-target variants, rendering the vaccine useless. Many people have argued that a solution is to develop vaccines containing the products of more than one variant of the target. However, we are unaware of any evidence that multi-allele vaccines better protect hosts against parasites or morbidity. Moreover, selection of antigen-variants is not the only evolution that could occur in response to vaccination. Increased virulence could also be favored if more aggressive strains are less well controlled by vaccine-induced immunity. Virulence and antigenic identity have been confounded in all studies so far, and so we do not know formally from any animal or human studies whether vaccine failure has been due to evasion of protective responses by variants at target epitopes, or whether vaccines are just less good at protecting against more aggressive strains. Using the rodent malaria model Plasmodium chabaudi and recombinant apical membrane antigen-1 (AMA-1), we tested whether a bi-allelic vaccine afforded greater protection from parasite infection and morbidity than did vaccination with the component alleles alone. We also tested the effect of mono- and bi-allelic vaccination on within-host selection of mixed P. chabaudi infections, and whether parasite virulence mediates pathogen titres in immunized hosts. We found that vaccination with the bi-allelic AMA-1 formulation did not afford the host greater protection from parasite infection or morbidity than did mono-allelic AMA-1 immunization. Mono-allelic immunization increased the frequency of heterologous clones in mixed clone infections. There was no evidence that any type of immunization regime favored virulence. A single AMA-1 variant is a component of candidate malaria vaccines current in human trials; our results suggest that adding extra AMA-1 alleles to these vaccines would not confer clinical benefits, but that that mono-allelic vaccines could alter AMA-1 allele frequencies in natural populations.
All Science Journal Classification (ASJC) codes
- Molecular Medicine
- General Immunology and Microbiology
- General Veterinary
- Public Health, Environmental and Occupational Health
- Infectious Diseases