Background: Naturally acquired immune responses against sexual stages of P. falciparum can reduce the transmission of malaria from humans to mosquitoes. These antigens are candidate transmission-blocking vaccines but little is known about the acquisition of sexual stage immunity after exposure to gametocytes, or their longevity and functionality. We conducted a longitudinal study on functional sexual stage immune responses.
Methodology/principal findings: Parasitaemic individuals (n = 116) were recruited at a health centre in Lower Moshi, Tanzania. Patients presented with gametocytes (n = 16), developed circulating gametocytes by day 7 (n = 69) or between day 7 and 14 (n = 10) after treatment or did not develop gametocytes (n = 21). Serum samples were collected on the first day of gametocytaemia and 28 and 84 days post-enrolment (or d7, 28, 84 after enrolment from gametocyte-negative individuals). Antibody responses to sexual stage antigens Pfs230 and Pfs48/45 were detected in 20.7% (72/348) and 15.2% (53/348) of the samples, respectively, and were less prevalent than antibodies against asexual stage antigens MSP-1(19) (48.1%; 137/285) and AMA-1 (52.4%; 129/246)(p<0.001). The prevalence of anti-Pfs230 (p = 0.026) and anti-Pfs48/45 antibodies (p = 0.017) increased with longer duration of gametocyte exposure and had an estimated half-life of approximately 3 months. Membrane feeding experiments demonstrated a strong association between the prevalence and concentration of Pfs230 and Pfs48/45 antibodies and transmission reducing activity (TRA, p<0.01).
Conclusions/significance: In a longitudinal study, anti-Pfs230 and Pfs48/45 antibodies developed rapidly after exposure to gametocytes and were strongly associated with transmission-reducing activity. Our data indicate that the extent of antigen exposure is important in eliciting functional transmission-reducing immune responses.