Clinical expression & antigenic profiles of a P. vivax vaccine candidate: merozoite surface protein 7
Vivax malaria is the predominant form of malaria outside Africa, affecting about 14 million people worldwide, with about 2.5 billion people exposed. Development of a Plasmodium vivax vaccine is a priority, and merozoite surface protein 7 (MSP-7) has been proposed as a plausible candidate. The P. vivax genome contains 12 MSP-7 genes, which contribute to erythrocyte invasion during blood-stage infection. Previous analysis of MSP-7 sequence diversity suggested that not all paralogs are functionally equivalent. To explore MSP-7 functional diversity, and to identify the best vaccine candidate within the family, MSP-7 expression and antigenicity during bloodstream infections were examined directly from clinical isolates.
Merozoite surface protein 7 gene expression was profiled using RNA-seq data from blood samples isolated from ten human patients with vivax malaria. Differential expression analysis and co-expression cluster analysis were used to relate PvMSP-7 expression to genetic markers of life cycle stage. Plasma from vivax malaria patients was also assayed using a custom peptide microarray to measure antibody responses against the coding regions of 12 MSP-7 paralogs.
Ten patients presented diverse transcriptional profiles that comprised four patient groups. Two MSP-7 paralogs, 7A and 7F, were expressed abundantly in all patients, while other MSP-7 genes were uniformly rare (e.g. 7J). MSP-7H and 7I were significantly more abundant in patient group 4 only, (two patients having experienced longer patency), and were co-expressed with a schizont-stage marker, while negatively associated with liver-stage and gametocyte-stage markers. Screening infections with a PvMSP-7 peptide array identified 13 linear B-cell epitopes in five MSP-7 paralogs that were recognized by plasma from all patients.
These results show that MSP-7 family members vary in expression profile during blood infections; MSP-7A and 7F are expressed throughout the intraerythrocytic development cycle, while expression of other paralogs is focused on the schizont. This may reflect developmental regulation, and potentially functional differentiation, within the gene family. The frequency of B-cell epitopes among paralogs also varies, with MSP-7A and 7L consistently the most immunogenic. Thus, MSP-7 paralogs cannot be assumed to have equal potential as vaccines. This analysis of clinical infections indicates that the most abundant and immunogenic paralog is MSP-7A.