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Antibodies targeting variant antigens on the surfaces of chondroitin sulfate A (CSA)-binding malaria-infected erythrocytes have been linked to protection against the complications of malaria in pregnancy.
We examined the isotype/subtype profiles of antibodies that bound to variant surface antigens expressed by CSA-adherent Plasmodium falciparum in pregnant Malawian women with and without histologically defined placental malaria.
Women in their first pregnancy with placental malaria produced significantly greater amounts of immunoglobulin G1 (IgG1) and IgG3 reactive with surface antigens of malaria-infected erythrocytes than uninfected women of the same gravidity.
IgG1 and IgG3 levels in infected and control women in later pregnancies were similar to those in infected women in their first pregnancy. Levels of IgG2 and IgG4 were similarly low in infected and uninfected women of all gravidities. IgM that bound to the surface of CSA-adherent P. falciparum occurred in all groups of women and malaria-naive controls.
There was a significant correlation between IgG1 and IgG3 levels, indicating that women usually produced both subtypes. Levels of IgG1 and IgG3 correlated with the ability of serum or plasma to inhibit parasite adhesion to CSA.
Taken together, these data suggest that IgG1 and IgG3 dominate the IgG response to placental-type variant surface antigens.
They may function by blocking parasite adhesion to placental CSA, but given their cytophilic nature, they might also opsonize malaria-infected erythrocytes for interaction with Fc receptors on phagocytic cells.