Published: June 17, 2013
The development of effective malaria vaccines and immune biomarkers of malaria is a high priority for malaria control and elimination. Ags expressed by merozoites of Plasmodium falciparum are likely to be important targets of human immunity and are promising vaccine candidates, but very few Ags have been studied. We developed an approach to assess Ab responses to a comprehensive repertoire of merozoite proteins and investigate whether they are targets of protective Abs. We expressed 91 recombinant proteins, located on the merozoite surface or within invasion organelles, and screened them for quality and reactivity to human Abs. Subsequently, Abs to 46 proteins were studied in a longitudinal cohort of 206 Papua New Guinean children to define Ab acquisition and associations with protective immunity. Ab responses were higher among older children and those with active parasitemia. High-level Ab responses to rhoptry and microneme proteins that function in erythrocyte invasion were identified as being most strongly associated with protective immunity compared with other Ags. Additionally, Abs to new or understudied Ags were more strongly associated with protection than were Abs to current vaccine candidates that have progressed to phase 1 or 2 vaccine trials. Combinations of Ab responses were identified that were more strongly associated with protective immunity than responses to their single-Ag components. This study identifies Ags that are likely to be key targets of protective human immunity and facilitates the prioritization of Ags for further evaluation as vaccine candidates and/or for use as biomarkers of immunity in malaria surveillance and control.