Background: Plasmodium falciparum merozoite surface protein-1 (MSP1) has been extensively studied as a blood-stage malaria vaccine candidate, with most work focused on the conserved 19 kDa and semi-conserved 42 kDa C-terminal regions (blocks 16-17) and the hypervariable N-terminal repeat region (block 2). However, recent genotyping studies suggest that additional regions of MSP1 may be under selective pressure, including a locus of intragenic recombination designated as block 4 within the 3' region of the gene.
Methods: The current study examined the antibody response to the two parental and two recombinant forms of block 4 and to blocks 16-17 (3D7) in study populations from Colombia, Papua New Guinea and Cameroon that differ in malaria transmission intensity and ethnic composition.
Results: IgM and IgG antibodies were detected against parental and recombinant MSP1 block 4 peptides in all three populations. Overall, 32-44% of the individuals produced IgM to one or more of the peptides, with most individuals having IgM antibodies reactive with both parental and recombinant forms. In contrast, IgG seropositivity to block 4 varied among populations (range 15-65%), with the majority of antibodies showing specificity for one or a pair of block 4 peptides. The IgG response to block 4 was significantly lower than that to blocks 16-17, indicating block 4 is subdominant. Antibodies to block 4 and blocks 16-17 displayed distinct IgG subclass biases, with block 4 responses biased toward IgG3 and blocks 16-17 toward IgG1. These patterns of responsiveness were consistently observed in the three study populations.
Conclusions: Production of antibodies specific for each parental and recombinant MSP1 block 4 allele in different populations exposed to P. falciparum is consistent with balancing selection of the MSP1 block 4 region by the immune response of individuals in areas of both low and high malaria transmission. MSP1 block 4 determinants may be important in isolate-specific immunity to P. falciparum.