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BACKGROUND: The quantitative suspension array technology (qSAT) is a useful platform for malaria immune marker discovery. However, a major challenge for large sero-epidemiological and malaria vaccine studies is the comparability across laboratories, which requires the access to standardized control reagents for assay optimization, to monitor performance and improve reproducibility. Here, the Plasmodium falciparum antibody reactivities of the newly available WHO reference reagent for anti-malaria human plasma (10/198) and of additional customized positive controls were examined with seven in-house qSAT multiplex assays measuring IgG, IgG1-4 subclasses, IgM and IgE against a panel of 40 antigens. The different positive controls were tested at different incubation times and temperatures (4 degrees C overnight, 37 degrees C 2 h, room temperature 1 h) to select the optimal conditions. RESULTS: Overall, the WHO reference reagent had low IgG2, IgG4, IgM and IgE, and also low anti-CSP antibody levels, thus this reagent was enriched with plasmas from RTS,S-vaccinated volunteers to be used as standard for CSP-based vaccine studies. For the IgM assay, another customized plasma pool prepared with samples from malaria primo-infected adults with adequate IgM levels proved to be more adequate as a positive control. The range and magnitude of IgG and IgG1-4 responses were highest when the WHO reference reagent was incubated with antigen-coupled beads at 4 degrees C overnight. IgG levels measured in the negative control did not vary between incubations at 37 degrees C 2 h and 4 degrees C overnight, indicating no difference in unspecific binding. CONCLUSIONS: With this study, the immunogenicity profile of the WHO reference reagent, including seven immunoglobulin isotypes and subclasses, and more P. falciparum antigens, also those included in the leading RTS,S malaria vaccine, was better characterized. Overall, incubation of samples at 4 degrees C overnight rendered the best performance for antibody measurements against the antigens tested. Although the WHO reference reagent performed well to measure IgG to the majority of the common P. falciparum blood stage antigens tested, customized pools may need to be used as positive controls depending on the antigens (e.g. pre-erythrocytic proteins of low natural immunogenicity) and isotypes/subclasses (e.g. IgM) under study.