Plasmodium parasites lacking plasmepsin 4 (PM4), an aspartic protease that functions in the lysosomal compartment and contributes to hemoglobin digestion, have only a modest decrease in the asexual blood-stage growth rate; however, PM4 deficiency in the rodent malaria parasite Plasmodium berghei results in significantly less virulence than that for the parental parasite. P. berghei △pm4 parasites failed to induce experimental cerebral malaria (ECM) in ECM-susceptible mice, and ECM-resistant mice were able to clear infections. Furthermore, after a single infection, all convalescent mice were protected against subsequent parasite challenge for at least 1 year. Realtime in vivo parasite imaging and splenectomy experiments demonstrated that protective immunity acted through antibody-mediated parasite clearance in the spleen. This work demonstrates, for the first time, that a single Plasmodium gene disruption can generate virulence-attenuated parasites that do not induce cerebral complications and, moreover, are able to stimulate strong protective immunity against subsequent challenge with wild-type parasites. Parasite blood-stage attenuation should help identify protective immune responses against malaria, unravel parasite-derived factors involved in malarial pathologies, such as cerebral malaria, and potentially pave the way for blood-stage whole organism vaccines.
ASJC Scopus subject areas
- Pathology and Forensic Medicine