Functional antibodies against Plasmodium falciparum; sporozoites are associated with a longer time to qPCR-detected infection among schoolchildren in Burkina Faso.
Individuals living in malaria-endemic regions develop immunity against severe malaria, but it is unclear whether immunity against pre-erythrocytic stages that blocks initiation of blood-stage infection after parasite inoculation develops following continuous natural exposure. We cleared schoolchildren living in an area (health district of Saponé, Burkina Faso) with highly endemic seasonal malaria of possible sub-patent infections and examined them weekly for incident infections by nested PCR. Plasma samples collected at enrolment were used to quantify antibodies to the pre-eryhrocytic-stage antigens circumsporozoite protein (CSP) and Liver stage antigen 1 (LSA-1). sporozoite gliding inhibition and hepatocyte invasion inhibition by naturally acquired antibodies were assessed using NF54 sporozoites. Associations between antibody responses, functional pre-erythrocytic immunity phenotypes and time to infection detected by quantitative PCR were studied. A total of 51 children were monitored. Anti-CSP antibody titres showed a positive association with sporozoite gliding motility inhibition (P<0.0001, Spearman's ρ=0.76). hepatocyte invasion was inhibited by naturally acquired antibodies (median inhibition, 19.4% [IQR 15.2-40.9%]), and there were positive correlations between invasion inhibition and gliding inhibition (P=0.005, Spearman's ρ=0.67) and between invasion inhibition and CSP-specific antibodies (P=0.002, Spearman's ρ=0.76). Survival analysis indicated longer time to infection in individuals displaying higher-than-median sporozoite gliding inhibition activity (P=0.01), although this association became non-significant after adjustment for blood-stage immunity (P = 0.06). In summary, functional antibodies against the pre-erythrocytic stages of malaria infection are acquired in children who are repeatedly exposed to parasites. This immune response does not prevent them from becoming infected during a malaria transmission season, but might delay the appearance of blood stage parasitaemia. Our approach could not fully separate the effects of pre-erythrocytic-specific and blood-stage-specific antibody-mediated immune responses ; epidemiological studies powered and designed to address this important question should become a research priority.