Placental malaria vaccine candidate antigen VAR2CSA displays atypical domain architecture in some Plasmodium falciparum strains

Commun Biol. 2019 Dec 6;2:457. doi: 10.1038/s42003-019-0704-z. eCollection 2019.


Two vaccines based on Plasmodium falciparum protein VAR2CSA are currently in clinical evaluation to prevent placental malaria (PM), but a deeper understanding of var2csa variability could impact vaccine design. Here we identified atypical extended or truncated VAR2CSA extracellular structures and confirmed one extended structure in a Malian maternal isolate, using a novel protein fragment assembly method for RNA-seq and DNA-seq data. Extended structures included one or two additional DBL domains downstream of the conventional NTS-DBL1X-6ɛ domain structure, with closest similarity to DBLɛ in var2csa and non-var2csa genes. Overall, 4/82 isolates displayed atypical VAR2CSA structures. The maternal isolate expressing an extended VAR2CSA bound to CSA, but its recombinant VAR2CSA bound less well to CSA than VAR2CSANF54 and showed lower reactivity to naturally acquired parity-dependent antibody. Our protein fragment sequence assembly approach has revealed atypical VAR2CSA domain architectures that impact antigen reactivity and function, and should inform the design of VAR2CSA-based vaccines.

Keywords: Malaria; Parasite genetics.

Publication types

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

MeSH terms

  • Amino Acid Sequence
  • Antigens, Protozoan / chemistry
  • Antigens, Protozoan / immunology*
  • Cell Membrane / immunology
  • Cell Membrane / metabolism
  • Databases, Genetic
  • Female
  • Humans
  • Malaria, Falciparum / prevention & control*
  • Placenta / immunology*
  • Placenta / parasitology*
  • Plasmodium falciparum / immunology*
  • Pregnancy
  • Protein Conformation
  • Protein Domains


  • Antigens, Protozoan
  • VAR2CSA protein, Plasmodium falciparum