INTRODUCTION: During pregnancy, immunoglobulin G (IgG) is transferred from the mother to the fetus, providing protection from disease in early infancy. Plasmodium falciparum infections may reduce maternofetal antibody transfer efficiency, but mechanisms remain unclear.
METHODS: Mother-cord paired serum samples collected at delivery from Papua New Guinea (PNG) and the Thailand-Myanmar Border Area (TMBA) were tested for IgG1 and IgG3 to four P. falciparum antigens and measles antigen, as well as total serum IgG. Multivariable linear regression was conducted to assess the association of peripheral P. falciparum infection during pregnancy or placental P. falciparum infection assessed at delivery with maternofetal antibody transfer efficiency. Path analysis assessed the extent to which associations between P. falciparum infection and antibody transfer were mediated by gestational age at delivery or levels of maternal total serum IgG.
RESULTS: Maternofetal antibody transfer efficiency of IgG1 and IgG3 was lower in PNG compared to TMBA (mean difference in cord antibody levels (controlling for maternal antibody levels) ranged from -0.88 to 0.09, median of -0.20 log2 units). Placental P. falciparum infections were associated with substantially lower maternofetal antibody transfer efficiency in PNG primigravid women (mean difference in cord antibody levels (controlling for maternal antibody levels) ranged from -0.62 to -0.10, median of -0.36 log2 units), but not multigravid women. The lower antibody transfer efficiency amongst primigravid women with placental infection was only partially mediated by gestational age at delivery (proportion indirect effect ranged from 0% to 18%), whereas no mediation effects of maternal total serum IgG were observed.
DISCUSSION: Primigravid women may be at risk of impaired maternofetal antibody transport with placental P. falciparum infection. Direct effects of P. falciparum on the placenta, rather than earlier gestational age and elevated serum IgG, are likely responsible for the majority of the reduction in maternofetal antibody transfer efficiency with placental infection.
This work was supported by the National Health and Medical Research Council of Australia (project grant and training award to Freya J. I. Fowkes; Infrastructure for Research Institutes Support Scheme grant, Senior Research Fellowship and Program Grant to JGB and IM, NHMRC Independent Research Institutes Infrastructure Support to the Burnet Institute and WEHI), Australian Research Council (Future Fellowship to Freya J. I. Fowkes), and Victorian State Government Operational Infrastructure Support grant to the Burnet Institute. Alistair R. D. McLean is supported by an Australian Postgraduate Award. Shoklo Malaria Research Unit is part of the Mahidol Oxford University Tropical Medicine Research Unit supported by the Wellcome Trust of Great Britain. The Christophe and Rodolphe Me´rieux Foundation supported the study through a prize (2008) to Franc¸ois Nosten.