Defining the antigenic diversity of Plasmodium falciparum apical membrane antigen 1 and the requirements for a multi-allele vaccine against malaria

PLoS One. 2012;7(12):e51023. doi: 10.1371/journal.pone.0051023. Epub 2012 Dec 5.


Apical Membrane Antigen 1 (AMA1) is a leading malaria vaccine candidate and a target of naturally-acquired human immunity. Plasmodium falciparum AMA1 is polymorphic and in vaccine trials it induces strain-specific protection. This antigenic diversity is a major roadblock to development of AMA1 as a malaria vaccine and understanding how to overcome it is essential. To assess how AMA1 antigenic diversity limits cross-strain growth inhibition, we assembled a panel of 18 different P. falciparum isolates which are broadly representative of global AMA1 sequence diversity. Antibodies raised against four well studied AMA1 alleles (W2Mef, 3D7, HB3 and FVO) were tested for growth inhibition of the 18 different P. falciparum isolates in growth inhibition assays (GIA). All antibodies demonstrated substantial cross-inhibitory activity against different isolates and a mixture of the four different AMA1 antibodies inhibited all 18 isolates tested, suggesting significant antigenic overlap between AMA1 alleles and limited antigenic diversity of AMA1. Cross-strain inhibition by antibodies was only moderately and inconsistently correlated with the level of sequence diversity between AMA1 alleles, suggesting that sequence differences are not a strong predictor of antigenic differences or the cross-inhibitory activity of anti-allele antibodies. The importance of the highly polymorphic C1-L region for inhibitory antibodies and potential vaccine escape was assessed by generating novel transgenic P. falciparum lines for testing in GIA. While the polymorphic C1-L epitope was identified as a significant target of some growth-inhibitory antibodies, these antibodies only constituted a minor proportion of the total inhibitory antibody repertoire, suggesting that the antigenic diversity of inhibitory epitopes is limited. Our findings support the concept that a multi-allele AMA1 vaccine would give broad coverage against the diversity of AMA1 alleles and establish new tools to define polymorphisms important for vaccine escape.

MeSH terms

  • Alleles*
  • Animals
  • Animals, Genetically Modified
  • Antibodies, Protozoan / immunology
  • Antigenic Variation / immunology*
  • Antigens, Protozoan / immunology*
  • Base Sequence
  • Cross Reactions / immunology
  • Humans
  • Malaria / immunology*
  • Malaria / parasitology
  • Malaria / prevention & control*
  • Malaria Vaccines / genetics
  • Malaria Vaccines / immunology*
  • Membrane Proteins / immunology*
  • Parasites / genetics
  • Parasites / growth & development
  • Parasites / immunology
  • Parasites / isolation & purification
  • Phylogeny
  • Plasmodium falciparum / genetics
  • Plasmodium falciparum / growth & development
  • Plasmodium falciparum / immunology*
  • Plasmodium falciparum / isolation & purification
  • Polymorphism, Genetic
  • Protozoan Proteins / immunology*


  • Antibodies, Protozoan
  • Antigens, Protozoan
  • Malaria Vaccines
  • Membrane Proteins
  • Protozoan Proteins
  • apical membrane antigen I, Plasmodium

Grant support

Funding was provided by the PATH Malaria Vaccine Initiative; US Agency for International Development; National Health and Medical Research Council of Australia (program grant to JGB and AFC; Infrastructure for Research Institutes Support Scheme Grant); Australian Research Council (Future Fellowship to JGB); and a Victorian State Government Operational Infrastructure Support grant. The funders had no role in study design, data collection and analysis, decision to publish, or preparation of the manuscript.