Negative Epistasis between Sickle and Foetal Haemoglobin Suggests a Reduction in Protection against Malaria.
Mmbando BP., Mgaya J., Cox SE., Mtatiro SN., Soka D., Rwezaula S., Meda E., Msaki E., Snow RW., Jeffries N., Geller NL., Makani J.
BACKGROUND: Haemoglobin variants, Sickle (HbS) and foetal (HbF) have been associated with malaria protection. This study explores epistatic interactions between HbS and HbF on malaria infection. METHODS: The study was conducted between March 2004 and December 2013 within the sickle cell disease (SCD) programme at Muhimbili National Hospital, Tanzania. SCD status was categorized into HbAA, HbAS and HbSS using hemoglobin electrophoresis and High Performance Liquid Chromatography (HPLC). HbF levels were determined by HPLC. Malaria was diagnosed using rapid diagnostic test and/or blood film. Logistic regression and generalized estimating equations models were used to evaluate associations between SCD status, HbF and malaria. FINDINGS: 2,049 individuals with age range 0-70 years, HbAA 311(15.2%), HbAS 241(11.8%) and HbSS 1,497(73.1%) were analysed. At enrolment, malaria prevalence was significantly higher in HbAA 13.2% compared to HbAS 1.24% and HbSS 1.34% (p<0.001). Mean HbF was lower in those with malaria compared to those without malaria in HbAA (0.43% vs 0.82%) but was the reverse in HbSS (8.10% vs 5.59%). An increase in HbF was associated with a decrease in risk of malaria OR=0.50 (95%CI: 0.28, 0.90; p=0.021) in HbAA, whereas for HbSS the risk of malaria increased OR=2.94 (1.44, 5.98; p=0.003). A similar pattern was seen during multiple visits; HbAA OR=0.52 (0.34, 0.80; p=0.003) vs HbSS OR=2.01 (1.27, 3.23; p=0.003). CONCLUSION: Higher prevalence of malaria in HbAA compared to HbAS and HbSS confirmed the protective effect of HbS. Lower prevalence of malaria in HbAA with high HbF supports a protective effect of HbF. However, in HbSS, the higher prevalence of malaria with high levels of HbF suggests loss of malaria protection. This is the first epidemiological study to suggest a negative epistasis between HbF and HbS on malaria.