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BACKGROUND: Immunity to malaria develops naturally in endemic regions, but the protective immune mechanisms are poorly understood. Many vaccination strategies aim to induce T cells against diverse pre-erythrocytic antigens, but correlates of protection in the field have been limited. The objective of this study was to investigate cell-mediated immune correlates of protection in natural malaria. Memory T cells reactive against thrombospondin-related adhesive protein (TRAP) and circumsporozoite (CS) protein, major vaccine candidate antigens, were measured, as were frequencies of CD4(+) CD25(high) T cells, which may suppress immunity, and CD56(+) NK cells and gammadelta T cells, which may be effectors or may modulate immunity. METHODOLOGY AND PRINCIPAL FINDINGS: 112 healthy volunteers living in rural Kenya were entered in the study. Memory T cells reactive against TRAP and CS were measured using a cultured IFNgamma ELISPOT approach, whilst CD4(+) CD25(high) T cells, CD56(+) NK cells, and gammadelta T cells were measured by flow cytometry. We found that T cell responses against TRAP were established early in life (<5 years) in contrast to CS, and cultured ELISPOT memory T cell responses did not correlate with ex-vivo IFNgamma ELISPOT effector responses. Data was examined for associations with risk of clinical malaria for a period of 300 days. Multivariate logistic analysis incorporating age and CS response showed that cultured memory T cell responses against TRAP were associated with a significantly reduced incidence of malaria (p = 0.028). This was not seen for CS responses. Higher numbers of CD4(+) CD25(high) T cells, potentially regulatory T cells, were associated with a significantly increased risk of clinical malaria (p = 0.039). CONCLUSIONS: These data demonstrate a role for central memory T cells in natural malarial immunity and support current vaccination strategies aimed at inducing durable protective T cell responses against the TRAP antigen. They also suggest that CD4(+) CD25(high) T cells may negatively affect naturally acquired malarial immunity.

Original publication




Journal article


PLoS One

Publication Date





Adolescent, Adult, African Continental Ancestry Group, Aged, Aged, 80 and over, CD4 Antigens, Cells, Cultured, Child, Child, Preschool, Cytokines, Disease Susceptibility, Humans, Immunologic Memory, Incidence, Infant, Infant, Newborn, Interferon-gamma, Interleukin-2 Receptor alpha Subunit, Intracellular Space, Kenya, Malaria, Middle Aged, Phenotype, Protozoan Proteins, T-Lymphocytes