Systems analysis and controlled malaria infection in Europeans and Africans elucidate naturally acquired immunity

Nat Immunol. 2021 May;22(5):654-665. doi: 10.1038/s41590-021-00911-7. Epub 2021 Apr 22.


Controlled human infections provide opportunities to study the interaction between the immune system and malaria parasites, which is essential for vaccine development. Here, we compared immune signatures of malaria-naive Europeans and of Africans with lifelong malaria exposure using mass cytometry, RNA sequencing and data integration, before and 5 and 11 days after venous inoculation with Plasmodium falciparum sporozoites. We observed differences in immune cell populations, antigen-specific responses and gene expression profiles between Europeans and Africans and among Africans with differing degrees of immunity. Before inoculation, an activated/differentiated state of both innate and adaptive cells, including elevated CD161+CD4+ T cells and interferon-γ production, predicted Africans capable of controlling parasitemia. After inoculation, the rapidity of the transcriptional response and clusters of CD4+ T cells, plasmacytoid dendritic cells and innate T cells were among the features distinguishing Africans capable of controlling parasitemia from susceptible individuals. These findings can guide the development of a vaccine effective in malaria-endemic regions.

Publication types

  • Clinical Trial, Phase I
  • Research Support, N.I.H., Extramural
  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Adaptive Immunity / genetics
  • Adaptive Immunity / immunology*
  • Adolescent
  • Adult
  • Antibodies, Protozoan / blood
  • Antibodies, Protozoan / immunology
  • Antigens, Protozoan / immunology
  • Black People / genetics
  • Dendritic Cells / immunology
  • Disease Susceptibility / blood
  • Disease Susceptibility / immunology*
  • Disease Susceptibility / parasitology
  • Female
  • Healthy Volunteers
  • Host-Parasite Interactions / genetics
  • Host-Parasite Interactions / immunology
  • Humans
  • Immunity, Innate / genetics
  • Immunity, Innate / immunology
  • Interferon-gamma / metabolism
  • Malaria, Falciparum / blood
  • Malaria, Falciparum / immunology*
  • Malaria, Falciparum / parasitology
  • Male
  • Plasmodium falciparum / immunology*
  • RNA-Seq
  • Systems Analysis
  • T-Lymphocytes / immunology
  • T-Lymphocytes / metabolism
  • White People / genetics
  • Young Adult


  • Antibodies, Protozoan
  • Antigens, Protozoan
  • IFNG protein, human
  • Interferon-gamma