Low immunogenicity of malaria pre-erythrocytic stages can be overcome by vaccination
Müller K., Gibbins MP., Reyes-Sandoval A., Hill AVS., Draper SJ., Matuschewski K., Silvie O., Hafalla JCR.
ABSTRACTVaccine discovery and development critically depends on predictive assays, which prioritise protective antigens. Immunogenicity is considered one important criterion for progression of candidate vaccines to further clinical evaluation, including phase I/II trials. Here, we tested this assumption in an infection and vaccination model for malaria pre-erythrocytic stages. We engineered Plasmodium berghei parasites that harbour a well-characterised epitope for stimulation of CD8+ T cells either as an antigen in the circumsporozoite protein (CSP), the surface coat protein of extracellular sporozoites or in the upregulated in sporozoites 4 (UIS4), a major protein associated with the parasitophorous vacuole membrane (PVM) that surrounds the intracellular exo-erythrocytic forms (EEF). We show that the antigen origin results in profound differences in immunogenicity with a sporozoite antigen eliciting robust and superior antigen-specific CD8+ T cell responses, whilst an EEF antigen evokes poor responses. However, despite their contrasting immunogenic properties, both sporozoite and EEF antigens gain access to antigen presentation pathways in hepatocytes, as recognition and targeting by vaccine-induced, antigen-specific effector CD8+ T cells results in high levels of protection when targeting both antigens. Our study is the first demonstration that poor immunogenicity of EEF antigens does not preclude their susceptibility to antigen-specific CD8+ T cell killing. Our findings that antigen immunogenicity is an inadequate predictor of vaccine susceptibility have wide-ranging implications on antigen prioritisation for the design and testing of next-generation pre-erythrocytic malaria vaccines.