The Plasmodium falciparum variant erythrocyte surface antigens known as PfEMP1, encoded by the var gene family, are thought to play a crucial role in malaria pathogenesis because they mediate adhesion to host cells and immuno-modulation. Var genes have been divided into three major groups (A, B and C) and two intermediate groups (B/A and B/C) on the basis of their genomic location and upstream sequence. We analysed expressed sequence tags of the var gene DBLalpha domain to investigate var gene transcription in relation to disease severity in Malian children. We found that P. falciparum isolates from children with cerebral malaria (unrousable coma) predominantly transcribe var genes with DBLalpha1-like domains that are characteristic of Group A or B/A var genes. In contrast, isolates from children with equally high parasite burdens but no symptoms or signs of severe malaria (hyperparasitaemia patients) predominantly transcribe var genes with DBLalpha0-like domains that are characteristic of the B and C-related var gene groups. These results suggest that var genes with DBLalpha1-like domains (Group A or B/A) may be implicated in the pathogenesis of cerebral malaria, while var genes with DBLalpha0-like domains promote less virulent malaria infections.
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"Epidemiological studies have shown a subset of var genes preferentially expressed in young and non-immune children to be associated with severe malaria especially in children with IC [7-10]. This is consistent with 1) the hypothesis that some PfEMP1 variants have growth advantage in immunologically naïve children as the result of exhibiting a superior ability to sequester [11-18] and 2) the observed relationship between the density of sequestration in vital organs such as the brain and fatal malaria [4,5,18]. "
[Show abstract][Hide abstract] ABSTRACT: Plasmodium falciparum erythrocyte membrane protein 1(PfEMP1) is a family of variant surface antigens (VSA) that mediate the adhesion of parasite infected erythrocytes to capillary endothelial cells within host tissues. Opinion is divided over the role of PfEMP1 in the widespread endothelial activation associated with severe malaria. In a previous study we found evidence for differential associations between defined VSA subsets and specific syndromes of severe malaria: group A-like PfEMP1 expression and the "rosetting" phenotype were associated with impaired consciousness and respiratory distress, respectively. This study explores the involvement of widespread endothelial activation in these associations.
We used plasma angiopoietin-2 as a marker of widespread endothelial activation. Using logistic regression analysis, we explored the relationships between plasma angiopoietin-2 levels, parasite VSA expression and the two syndromes of severe malaria, impaired consciousness and respiratory distress.
Plasma angiopoietin-2 was associated with both syndromes. The rosetting phenotype did not show an independent association with respiratory distress when adjusted for angiopoietin-2, consistent with a single pathogenic mechanism involving widespread endothelial activation. In contrast, group A-like PfEMP1 expression and angiopoietin-2 maintained independent associations with impaired consciousness when adjusted for each other.
The results are consistent with multiple pathogenic mechanisms leading to severe malaria and heterogeneity in the pathophysiology of impaired consciousness. The observed association between group A-like PfEMP1 and impaired consciousness does not appear to involve widespread endothelial activation.
Full-text · Article · Mar 2014 · BMC Infectious Diseases
"HB analysis of a smaller dataset from Mali that was originally analyzed by Kyriacou et al.
, reveals that at least some of the HB-phenotype associations reported above are similarly informative in geographically distinct (and presumably genetically unrelated) populations. Twenty-four of the 29 HBs we identified in the Kenyan dataset (Figure
1) were present in the Malain dataset (data not shown). "
[Show abstract][Hide abstract] ABSTRACT: The primary target of the human immune response to the malaria parasite Plasmodium falciparum, P. falciparum erythrocyte membrane protein 1 (PfEMP1), is encoded by the members of the hyper-diverse var gene family. The parasite exhibits antigenic variation via mutually exclusive expression (switching) of the ~60 var genes within its genome. It is thought that different variants exhibit different host endothelial binding preferences that in turn result in different manifestations of disease.
Var sequences comprise ancient sequence fragments, termed homology blocks (HBs), that recombine at exceedingly high rates. We use HBs to define distinct var types within a local population. We then reanalyze a dataset that contains clinical and var expression data to investigate whether the HBs allow for a description of sequence diversity corresponding to biological function, such that it improves our ability to predict disease phenotype from parasite genetics. We find that even a generic set of HBs, which are defined for a small number of non-local parasites: capture the majority of local sequence diversity; improve our ability to predict disease severity from parasite genetics; and reveal a previously hypothesized yet previously unobserved parasite genetic basis for two forms of severe disease. We find that the expression rates of some HBs correlate more strongly with severe disease phenotypes than the expression rates of classic var DBLalpha tag types, and principal components of HB expression rate profiles further improve genotype-phenotype models. More specifically, within the large Kenyan dataset that is the focus of this study, we observe that HB expression differs significantly for severe versus mild disease, and for rosetting versus impaired consciousness associated severe disease. The analysis of a second much smaller dataset from Mali suggests that these HB-phenotype associations are consistent across geographically distant populations, since we find evidence suggesting that the same HB-phenotype associations characterize this population as well.
The distinction between rosetting versus impaired consciousness associated var genes has not been described previously, and it could have important implications for monitoring, intervention and diagnosis. Moreover, our results have the potential to illuminate the molecular mechanisms underlying the complex spectrum of severe disease phenotypes associated with malaria---an important objective given that only about 1% of P. falciparum infections result in severe disease.
"Various studies have investigated var gene expression during natural or experimental infections (Peters et al., 2002; Lavstsen et al., 2005; Wunderlich et al., 2005; Blomqvist et al., 2010). However, as the diversity and order of PfEMP1 variants in the human host is influenced by immune responses and other host factors (Kyriacou et al., 2006; Warimwe et al., 2009), attempts to elucidate the underlying patterns of antigenic change and estimate related switching parameters are commonly based on in vitro cultured parasites in the absence of selection pressure. In this setting, Horrocks et al. (Horrocks et al., 2004) found that the rates at which var genes activate or deactivate are non-random, gene-specific and highly dissimilar. "
[Show abstract][Hide abstract] ABSTRACT: Antigenic variation in the human malaria parasite Plasmodium falciparum involves sequential and mutually exclusive expression of members of the var multi-gene family and appears to follow a non-random pattern. In this study, using a detailed in vitro gene transcription analysis of the culture-adapted HB3 strain of P. falciparum, we show that antigenic switching is governed by a global activation hierarchy favouring short and highly diverse genes in central chromosomal location. Longer and more conserved genes, which have previously been associated with severe infection in immunologically naive hosts, are rarely activated, however, implying an in vivo fitness advantage possibly through adhesion-dependent survival rates. We further show that a gene’s activation rate is positively associated sequence diversity, which could offer important new insights into the evolution and maintenance of antigenic diversity in P. falciparum malaria. DOI: http://dx.doi.org/10.7554/eLife.01074.001