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BACKGROUND: Leading malaria vaccine, RTS,S, is based on the circumsporozoite protein (CSP) of sporozoites. RTS,S confers partial protection against malaria in children, but efficacy wanes relatively quickly after primary immunization. Vaccine efficacy has some association with anti-CSP IgG; however, it is unclear how these antibodies function, and how functional antibodies are induced and maintained over time. Recent studies identified antibody-complement interactions as a potentially important immune mechanism against sporozoites. Here, we investigated whether RTS,S vaccine-induced antibodies could function by interacting with complement. METHODS: Serum samples were selected from children in a phase IIb trial of RTS,S/AS02A conducted at two study sites of high and low malaria transmission intensity in Manhica, Mozambique. Samples following primary immunization and 5-year post-immunization follow-up time points were included. Vaccine-induced antibodies were characterized by isotype, subclass, and epitope specificity, and tested for the ability to fix and activate complement. We additionally developed statistical methods to model the decay and determinants of functional antibodies after vaccination. RESULTS: RTS,S vaccination induced anti-CSP antibodies that were mostly IgG1, with some IgG3, IgG2, and IgM. Complement-fixing antibodies were effectively induced by vaccination, and targeted the central repeat and C-terminal regions of CSP. Higher levels of complement-fixing antibodies were associated with IgG that equally recognized both the central repeat and C-terminal regions of CSP. Older age and higher malaria exposure were significantly associated with a poorer induction of functional antibodies. There was a marked decay in functional complement-fixing antibodies within months after vaccination, as well as decays in IgG subclasses and IgM. Statistical modeling suggested the decay in complement-fixing antibodies was mostly attributed to the waning of anti-CSP IgG1, and to a lesser extent IgG3. CONCLUSIONS: We demonstrate for the first time that RTS,S can induce complement-fixing antibodies in young malaria-exposed children. The short-lived nature of functional responses mirrors the declining vaccine efficacy of RTS,S over time. The negative influence of age and malaria exposure on functional antibodies has implications for understanding vaccine efficacy in different settings. These findings provide insights into the mechanisms and longevity of vaccine-induced immunity that will help inform the future development of highly efficacious and long-lasting malaria vaccines.
This work was supported by the National Health and Medical Research Council of Australia (Program grant to JGB ; Research Fellowship to JGB ); Australian Research Council Future Fellowship to FJIF [FT130101122]; Australian Government Research Training Program Scholarship to LK; Monash Postgraduate Publication Award to LK. PATH’s Malaria Vaccine Initiative provided funding for the clinical trial. JGB, FJIF, LK, GF, and DRD are members of the Australian Centre for Research Excellence in Malaria Elimination, funded by the NHMRC . ISGlobal is a member of the CERCA Program, Generalitat de Catalunya. The Manhiça Health Research Centre receives core funding from the Spanish Agency for International Cooperation and Development (AECID). The Burnet Institute is supported by a Victorian State Government Operational Infrastructure Support grant, and the NHMRC Independent Research Institutes Infrastructure Support Scheme.