Antibodies to blood-stage antigens of Plasmodium falciparum play a pivotal role in human immunity to malaria. During parasite development, multiple proteins are trafficked from the intracellular parasite to the surface of P. falciparum-infected erythrocytes (IEs). However, the relative importance of different proteins as targets of acquired antibodies, and key pathways involved in trafficking major antigens remain to be clearly defined. We quantified antibodies to surface antigens among children, adults, and pregnant women from different malaria-exposed regions. We quantified the importance of antigens as antibody targets using genetically engineered P. falciparum with modified surface antigen expression. Genetic deletion of the trafficking protein skeleton-binding protein-1 (SBP1), which is involved in trafficking the surface antigen PfEMP1, led to a dramatic reduction in antibody recognition of IEs and the ability of human antibodies to promote opsonic phagocytosis of IEs, a key mechanism of parasite clearance. The great majority of antibody epitopes on the IE surface were SBP1-dependent. This was demonstrated using parasite isolates with different genetic or phenotypic backgrounds, and among antibodies from children, adults, and pregnant women in different populations. Comparisons of antibody reactivity to parasite isolates with SBP1 deletion or inhibited PfEMP1 expression suggest that PfEMP1 is the dominant target of acquired human antibodies, and that other P. falciparum IE surface proteins are minor targets. These results establish SBP1 as part of a critical pathway for the trafficking of major surface antigens targeted by human immunity, and have key implications for vaccine development, and quantifying immunity in populations.
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Funding was provided by the National Health and
Medical Research Council of Australia (Program grant and Senior
research fellowship to JG Beeson, project grant to JG Beeson and SJ
Rogerson, Infrastructure for Research Institutes Support
Scheme Grant), Australian Postgraduate Award to J Chan, and the
Australian Research Council (Future fellowships to JG Beeson and
FJI Fowkes, Australian Research fellowship to AG Maier). The
authors gratefully acknowledge support for the Burnet Institute from
the Victorian Operational Infrastructure Support Program.