Publications & Reports

Reduced risk of placental parasitemia associated with complement fixation on Plasmodium falciparum by antibodies among pregnant women.

Opi DH, Boyle MJ, McLean ARD, Reiling L, Chan JA, Stanisic DI, Ura A, Mueller I, Fowkes FJI, Rogerson SJ, Beeson JG
Burnet Institute, 85 Commercial Road, Melbourne, Victoria, 3004, Australia. [email protected]


BACKGROUND: The pathogenesis of malaria in pregnancy (MiP) involves accumulation of P. falciparum-infected red blood cells (pRBCs) in the placenta, contributing to poor pregnancy outcomes. Parasite accumulation is primarily mediated by P. falciparum erythrocyte membrane protein 1 (PfEMP1). Magnitude of IgG to pRBCs has been associated with reduced risk of MiP in some studies, but associations have been inconsistent. Further, antibody effector mechanisms are poorly understood, and the role of antibody complement interactions is unknown. METHODS: Studying a longitudinal cohort of pregnant women (n=302) from a malaria-endemic province in Papua New Guinea (PNG), we measured the ability of antibodies to fix and activate complement using placental binding pRBCs and PfEMP1 recombinant domains. We determined antibody-mediated complement inhibition of pRBC binding to the placental receptor, chondroitin sulfate A (CSA), and associations with protection against placental parasitemia. RESULTS: Some women acquired antibodies that effectively promoted complement fixation on placental-binding pRBCs. Complement fixation correlated with IgG1 and IgG3 antibodies, which dominated the response. There was, however, limited evidence for membrane attack complex activity or pRBC lysis or killing. Importantly, a higher magnitude of complement fixing antibodies was prospectively associated with reduced odds of placental infection at delivery. Using genetically modified P. falciparum and recombinant PfEMP1 domains, we found that complement-fixing antibodies primarily targeted a specific variant of PfEMP1 (known as VAR2CSA). Furthermore, complement enhanced the ability of antibodies to inhibit pRBC binding to CSA, which was primarily mediated by complement C1q protein. CONCLUSIONS: These findings provide new insights into mechanisms mediating immunity to MiP and reveal potential new strategies for developing malaria vaccines that harness antibody-complement interactions.

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This work was supported by the National Health and Medical Research Council (Project grant 575534 and Program Grant 1092789 to J.G.B. and S.J.R; Investigator Grant 1173046 and Research Fellowship 1077626 to J.G.B). Burnet Institute is supported by the NHMRC Independent Research Institutes Infrastructure Support Scheme and the Victorian State Government Operational Infrastructure Support. DHO, MJB, LR, JAC, IM, FJIF, SJR, and JGB are members of the NHMRC Australian Centre for Research Excellence in Malaria Elimination. The funders had no role in the study design, data collection, analysis and interpretation of data, writing of the manuscript, or decision to publish.


  • Journal: BMC Medicine
  • Published: 24/08/2021
  • Volume: 19
  • Issue: 1
  • Pagination: 201