Systems analysis of immune responses to attenuated P. falciparum malaria sporozoite vaccination reveals excessive inflammatory signatures correlating with impaired immunity

PLoS Pathog. 2022 Feb 2;18(2):e1010282. doi: 10.1371/journal.ppat.1010282. eCollection 2022 Feb.


Immunization with radiation-attenuated sporozoites (RAS) can confer sterilizing protection against malaria, although the mechanisms behind this protection are incompletely understood. We performed a systems biology analysis of samples from the Immunization by Mosquito with Radiation Attenuated Sporozoites (IMRAS) trial, which comprised P. falciparum RAS-immunized (PfRAS), malaria-naive participants whose protection from malaria infection was subsequently assessed by controlled human malaria infection (CHMI). Blood samples collected after initial PfRAS immunization were analyzed to compare immune responses between protected and non-protected volunteers leveraging integrative analysis of whole blood RNA-seq, high parameter flow cytometry, and single cell CITEseq of PBMCs. This analysis revealed differences in early innate immune responses indicating divergent paths associated with protection. In particular, elevated levels of inflammatory responses early after the initial immunization were detrimental for the development of protective adaptive immunity. Specifically, non-classical monocytes and early type I interferon responses induced within 1 day of PfRAS vaccination correlated with impaired immunity. Non-protected individuals also showed an increase in Th2 polarized T cell responses whereas we observed a trend towards increased Th1 and T-bet+ CD8 T cell responses in protected individuals. Temporal differences in genes associated with natural killer cells suggest an important role in immune regulation by these cells. These findings give insight into the immune responses that confer protection against malaria and may guide further malaria vaccine development. Trial registration: NCT01994525.

Publication types

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

MeSH terms

  • Adult
  • Animals
  • Anopheles / parasitology
  • Female
  • Humans
  • Immunity*
  • Immunization / methods
  • Inflammation*
  • Insect Bites and Stings / immunology
  • Malaria Vaccines / immunology*
  • Malaria, Falciparum / immunology*
  • Malaria, Falciparum / parasitology
  • Male
  • Mosquito Vectors / parasitology
  • Plasmodium falciparum / immunology*
  • Sporozoites / immunology*
  • T-Lymphocytes / immunology
  • Vaccination / methods
  • Vaccines, Attenuated / immunology


  • Malaria Vaccines
  • Vaccines, Attenuated

Associated data