Polymorphic Molecular Signatures in Variable Regions of the Plasmodium falciparum var2csa DBL3x Domain Are Associated with Virulence in Placental Malaria
The Plasmodium falciparum protein VAR2CSA allows infected erythrocytes to accumulate within the placenta, inducing pathology and poor birth outcomes. Multiple exposures to placental malaria (PM) induce partial immunity against VAR2CSA, making it a promising vaccine candidate. However, the extent to which VAR2CSA genetic diversity contributes to immune evasion and virulence remains poorly understood. The deep sequencing of the var2csa DBL3X domain in placental blood from forty-nine primigravid and multigravid women living in malaria-endemic western Kenya revealed numerous unique sequences within individuals in association with chronic PM but not gravidity. Additional analysis unveiled four distinct sequence types that were variably present in mixed proportions amongst the study population. An analysis of the abundance of each of these sequence types revealed that one was inversely related to infant gestational age, another was inversely related to placental parasitemia, and a third was associated with chronic PM. The categorization of women according to the type to which their dominant sequence belonged resulted in the segregation of types as a function of gravidity: two types predominated in multigravidae whereas the other two predominated in primigravidae. The univariate logistic regression analysis of sequence type dominance further revealed that gravidity, maternal age, placental parasitemia, and hemozoin burden (within maternal leukocytes), reported a lack of antimalarial drug use, and infant gestational age and birth weight influenced the odds of membership in one or more of these sequence predominance groups. Cumulatively, these results show that unique var2csa sequences differentially appear in women with different PM exposure histories and segregate to types independently associated with maternal factors, infection parameters, and birth outcomes. The association of some var2csa sequence types with indicators of pathogenesis should motivate vaccine efforts to further identify and target VAR2CSA epitopes associated with maternal morbidity and poor birth outcomes.
Eldin Talundzic, Stephen Scott, Simon O Owino, David S Campo, Naomi W Lucchi, Venkatachalam Udhayakumar, Julie M Moore, David S Peterson. Pathogens. 2022 Apr 28;11(5):520. doi: 10.3390/pathogens11050520