Discovery of four new B-cell protective epitopes for malaria using Q beta virus-like particle as platform.
Atcheson E., Cabral-Miranda G., Salman AM., Reyes-Sandoval A.
Malaria remains one of the world's most urgent global health problems, with almost half a million deaths and hundreds of millions of clinical cases each year. Existing interventions by themselves will not be enough to tackle infection in high-transmission areas. The best new intervention would be an effective vaccine; but the leading P. falciparum and P. vivax vaccine candidates, RTS,S and VMP001, show only modest to low field efficacy. New antigens and improved ways for screening antigens for protective efficacy will be required. This study exploits the potential of Virus-Like Particles (VLP) to enhance immune responses to antigens, the ease of coupling peptides to the Q beta (Qβ) VLP and the existing murine malaria challenge to screen B-cell epitopes for protective efficacy. We screened P. vivax TRAP (PvTRAP) immune sera against individual 20-mer PvTRAP peptides. The most immunogenic peptides associated with protection were loaded onto Qβ VLPs to assess protective efficacy in a malaria sporozoite challenge. A second approach focused on identifying conserved regions within known sporozoite invasion proteins and assessing them as part of the Qβ. Using this VLP as a peptide scaffold, four new protective B-cell epitopes were discovered: three from the disordered region of PvTRAP and one from Thrombospondin-related sporozoite protein (TRSP). Antigenic interference between these and other B-cell epitopes was also explored using the virus-like particle/peptide platform. This approach demonstrates the utility of VLPs to help identifying new B-cell epitopes for inclusion in next-generation malaria vaccines.