Complement activation by merozoite antigens of Plasmodium falciparum

PLoS One. 2014 Aug 21;9(8):e105093. doi: 10.1371/journal.pone.0105093. eCollection 2014.


Background: Complement (C) is a crucial part of the innate immune system and becomes over activated during malaria, resulting in depletion of C components, especially those for lectin pathway (LP), thereby compromising the host's innate defense. In this study, involvement of P. falciparum antigens in C activation was investigated.

Methods: A highly synchronous culture of the Dd2 clone of P. falciparum was established in a serum free medium. Supernatants harvested from rings, trophozoites and schizonts at various parasite densities were tested for ability to activate C by quantifying amount of C3b deposited on erythrocytes (E). Uninfected sham culture was used as control. Remnants of each C pathway were determined using Wieslab complement System Screenkit (Euro-diagnostica, Sweden). To identify MBL binding antigens of LP, culture supernatants were added to MBL sepharose columns and trapped antigens eluted with increasing concentrations of EDTA (10 mM, 50 mM and 100 mM) and then desalted before being tested for ability to activate C. The EDTA eluate with highest activity was run on a polyacrylamide gel and silver stained proteins analyzed by mass spectroscopy.

Results: Antigens released by P. falciparum growing in culture activated C leading to C3b deposition on E. Maximal activation at 7% parasitemia was associated with schizont stage (36.7%) compared to 22% for rings, 21% for trophozoites and 3% for sham culture. All the three pathways of C were activated, with highest activation being for the alternative pathway (only 6% of C activation potential remained), 65% for classiical and 43% for the LP. Seven MBL binding merozoite proteins were identified by mass spectrometry in the 50 mM EDTA eluate.

Conclusions: MBL binding merozoite adhesins with ability to activate C pathway were identified. The survival advantage for such pronounced C activation is unclear, but opsonisation could facilitate recognition and invasion of E.

Publication types

  • Research Support, N.I.H., Extramural

MeSH terms

  • Animals
  • Antigens, Protozoan / immunology*
  • Complement Activation / physiology
  • Mass Spectrometry
  • Merozoites / immunology*
  • Plasmodium falciparum / immunology*


  • Antigens, Protozoan

Grants and funding

This work was supported by D43 Training Grant, Forgaty International Training Center, of NIH. The funders had no role in study design, data collection and analysis, decision to publish, or preparation of the manuscript.