• Identifying transmission patterns through parasite prevalence and entomological inoculation rate

      Amoah, Benjamin; McCann, Robert S; Kabaghe, Alinune N; Mburu, Monicah; Chipeta, Michael G; Moraga, Paula; Gowelo, Steven; Tizifa, Tinashe; van den Berg, Henk; Mzilahowa, Themba; et al. (eLife Sciences Publications, 2021-10-21)
      Background: Monitoring malaria transmission is a critical component of efforts to achieve targets for elimination and eradication. Two commonly monitored metrics of transmission intensity are parasite prevalence (PR) and the entomological inoculation rate (EIR). Comparing the spatial and temporal variations in the PR and EIR of a given geographical region and modelling the relationship between the two metrics may provide a fuller picture of the malaria epidemiology of the region to inform control activities. Methods: Using geostatistical methods, we compare the spatial and temporal patterns of Plasmodium falciparum EIR and PR using data collected over 38 months in a rural area of Malawi. We then quantify the relationship between EIR and PR by using empirical and mechanistic statistical models. Results: Hotspots identified through the EIR and PR partly overlapped during high transmission seasons but not during low transmission seasons. The estimated relationship showed a 1-month delayed effect of EIR on PR such that at lower levels of EIR, increases in EIR are associated with rapid rise in PR, whereas at higher levels of EIR, changes in EIR do not translate into notable changes in PR. Conclusions: Our study emphasises the need for integrated malaria control strategies that combine vector and human host managements monitored by both entomological and parasitaemia indices.
    • Integration of population and functional genomics to understand mechanisms of artemisinin resistance in Plasmodium falciparum

      Oberstaller, Jenna; Zoungrana, Linda; Bannerman, Carl D; Jahangiri, Samira; Dwivedi, Ankit; Silva, Joana C; Adams, John H; Takala-Harrison, Shannon (Elsevier Inc., 2021-05-26)
      Resistance to antimalarial drugs, and in particular to the artemisinin derivatives and their partner drugs, threatens recent progress toward regional malaria elimination and eventual global malaria eradication. Population-level studies utilizing whole-genome sequencing approaches have facilitated the identification of regions of the parasite genome associated with both clinical and in vitro drug-resistance phenotypes. However, the biological relevance of genes identified in these analyses and the establishment of a causal relationship between genotype and phenotype requires functional characterization. Here we examined data from population genomic and transcriptomic studies in the context of data generated from recent functional studies, using a new population genetic approach designed to identify potential favored mutations within the region of a selective sweep (iSAFE). We identified several genes functioning in pathways now known to be associated with artemisinin resistance that were supported in early population genomic studies, as well as potential new drug targets/pathways for further validation and consideration for treatment of artemisinin-resistant Plasmodium falciparum. In addition, we establish the utility of iSAFE in identifying positively-selected mutations in population genomic studies, potentially accelerating the time to functional validation of candidate genes.
    • Strains used in whole organism Plasmodium falciparum vaccine trials differ in genome structure, sequence, and immunogenic potential

      Moser, K.A.; Dwivedi, A.; Stucke, E.M.; Crabtree, J.; Dara, A.; Shah, Z.; Adams, M.; Munro, J.B.; Ouattara, A.; Sparklin, B.C.; et al. (BioMed Central Ltd., 2020)
      Background: Plasmodium falciparum (Pf) whole-organism sporozoite vaccines have been shown to provide significant protection against controlled human malaria infection (CHMI) in clinical trials. Initial CHMI studies showed significantly higher durable protection against homologous than heterologous strains, suggesting the presence of strain-specific vaccine-induced protection. However, interpretation of these results and understanding of their relevance to vaccine efficacy have been hampered by the lack of knowledge on genetic differences between vaccine and CHMI strains, and how these strains are related to parasites in malaria endemic regions. Methods: Whole genome sequencing using long-read (Pacific Biosciences) and short-read (Illumina) sequencing platforms was conducted to generate de novo genome assemblies for the vaccine strain, NF54, and for strains used in heterologous CHMI (7G8 from Brazil, NF166.C8 from Guinea, and NF135.C10 from Cambodia). The assemblies were used to characterize sequences in each strain relative to the reference 3D7 (a clone of NF54) genome. Strains were compared to each other and to a collection of clinical isolates (sequenced as part of this study or from public repositories) from South America, sub-Saharan Africa, and Southeast Asia. Results: While few variants were detected between 3D7 and NF54, we identified tens of thousands of variants between NF54 and the three heterologous strains. These variants include SNPs, indels, and small structural variants that fall in regulatory and immunologically important regions, including transcription factors (such as PfAP2-L and PfAP2-G) and pre-erythrocytic antigens that may be key for sporozoite vaccine-induced protection. Additionally, these variants directly contributed to diversity in immunologically important regions of the genomes as detected through in silico CD8+ T cell epitope predictions. Of all heterologous strains, NF135.C10 had the highest number of unique predicted epitope sequences when compared to NF54. Comparison to global clinical isolates revealed that these four strains are representative of their geographic origin despite long-term culture adaptation; of note, NF135.C10 is from an admixed population, and not part of recently formed subpopulations resistant to artemisinin-based therapies present in the Greater Mekong Sub-region. Conclusions: These results will assist in the interpretation of vaccine efficacy of whole-organism vaccines against homologous and heterologous CHMI. Copyright 2020 The Author(s).
    • Successful Profiling of Plasmodium falciparum Gene Expression in Clinical Samples via a Custom Capture Array

      Stucke, Emily M; Dara, Antoine; Dwivedi, Ankit; Hodges, Theresa K; Ott, Sandra; Coulibaly, Drissa; Koné, Abdoulaye K; Traoré, Karim; Guindo, Bouréima; Tangara, Bourama M; et al. (American Society for Microbiology, 2021-11-30)
      var genes encode Plasmodium falciparum erythrocyte membrane protein-1 (PfEMP1) antigens. These highly diverse antigens are displayed on the surface of infected erythrocytes and play a critical role in immune evasion and sequestration of infected erythrocytes. Studies of var expression using non-leukocyte-depleted blood are challenging because of the predominance of host genetic material and lack of conserved var segments. Our goal was to enrich for parasite RNA, allowing de novo assembly of var genes and detection of expressed novel variants. We used two overall approaches: (i) enriching for total mRNA in the sequencing library preparations and (ii) enriching for parasite RNA with a custom capture array based on Roche's SeqCap EZ enrichment system. The capture array was designed with probes based on the whole 3D7 reference genome and an additional >4,000 full-length var gene sequences from other P. falciparum strains. We tested each method on RNA samples from Malian children with severe or uncomplicated malaria infections. All reads mapping to the human genome were removed, the remaining reads were assembled de novo into transcripts, and from these, var-like transcripts were identified and annotated. The capture array produced the longest maximum length and largest numbers of var gene transcripts in each sample, particularly in samples with low parasitemia. Identifying the most-expressed var gene sequences in whole-blood clinical samples without the need for extensive processing or generating sample-specific reference genome data is critical for understanding the role of PfEMP1s in malaria pathogenesis. IMPORTANCE Malaria parasites display antigens on the surface of infected red blood cells in the human host that facilitate attachment to blood vessels, contributing to the severity of infection. These antigens are highly variable, allowing the parasite to evade the immune system. Identifying these expressed antigens is critical to understanding the development of severe malarial disease. However, clinical samples contain limited amounts of parasite genetic material, a challenge for sequencing efforts further compounded by the extreme diversity of the parasite surface antigens. We present a method that enriches for these antigen sequences in clinical samples using a custom capture array, requiring minimal processing in the field. While our results are focused on the malaria parasite Plasmodium falciparum, this approach has broad applicability to other highly diverse antigens from other parasites and pathogens such as those that cause giardiasis and leishmaniasis.