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Infectious Diseases - Obstetrics

Sequence Polymorphism, Segmental Recombination and Toggling Amino Acid Residues within the DBL3X Domain of the VAR2CSA Placental Malaria Antigen
Published: Thursday, February 09, 2012
Author: Eldin Talundzic et al.

by Eldin Talundzic, Sheel Shah, Ope Fawole, Simon Owino, Julie M. Moore, David S. Peterson

Plasmodium falciparum malaria remains one of the world's foremost health problems, primarily in highly endemic regions such as Sub-Saharan Africa, where it is responsible for substantial morbidity, mortality and economic losses. Malaria is a significant cause of severe disease and death in pregnant women and newborns, with pathogenesis being associated with expression of a unique variant of the multidomain Plasmodium falciparum Erythrocyte Membrane Protein 1 (PfEMP1) called VAR2CSA. Here, we characterize the polymorphism of the DBL3X domain of VAR2CSA and identify regions under selective pressure among placental parasites from women living in endemic western Kenya. In addition to significant levels of polymorphism, our analysis reveals evidence for diversification through intra-segmental recombination and novel mutations that likely contributed to the high number of unique VAR2CSA sequence types identified in this study. Interestingly, we also identified a number of critical residues that may be implicated in immune evasion through switching (or toggling) to alternative amino acids, including an arginine residue within the predicted binding pocket in subdomain III, which was previously implicated in binding to placental CSA. Overall, these findings are important for understanding parasite diversity in pregnant women and will be useful for identifying epitopes and variants of DBL3X to be included in a vaccine against placental malaria.