Studies evaluating the possible evolution of malaria parasites in response to blood-stage vaccination
Barclay, Victoria Charlotte
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Drug resistance is one of the most medically relevant forms of pathogen evolution. To date, vaccines have not failed with the same depressing regularity as drugs. Does that then make vaccines evolution-proof? In the face of vaccination, pathogens are thought to evolve in two ways: by evolving epitope changes at the antigenic target of vaccination (epitope evolution); or by evolving changes at other antigenic loci, some of which may involve virulence (virulence evolution). The fundamental difference between these two forms of evolution is that virulence evolution could lead to disease outcomes in unvaccinated people that are more severe than would have been seen prior to evolution. One of the theoretical assumptions of virulence evolution is that more virulent parasites will have a selective advantage over less virulent parasites in an immunized host, and are thus more likely to be transmitted. The assumption is that more virulent parasites may be competitively more superior in mixed infections, or may be better able to evade/modulate the host immune response. Thus, the aim of this thesis was to experimentally test whether more virulent parasites have a within-host selective advantage in an immunized host or whether vaccine efficacy is more likely to depend on genetic differences at the targeted sites of vaccination. I used clones (genotypes) of the rodent malaria Plasmodium chabaudi originally derived from wild-caught Thicket (Thamnomys rutilans) rats to infect laboratory mice and a rodent analogue of the candidate blood-stage malaria vaccine apical membrane antigen 1 (AMA-1). I found that within-host selection did not depend on parasite virulence, and that protective efficacy depended on genotype-specific differences at the vaccine target. Vaccine-induced protection was not enhanced by including a number of allelic variants. However, such genotype-specific responses were only observed when the vaccine was tested against genetically distinct P. chabaudi parasites. When one P. chabaudi genotype was serially passaged through naïve mice the derived line was more virulent and was subsequently less well controlled by vaccine-induced immunity. In other experiments I found within host competition not to be immune-mediated. Thus my results suggest that vaccination has the potential to select for more virulent parasites but that the selective advantage is likely to be independent of competition. The selective advantage may be attributable to the enhanced immune evasion of more virulent parasites. However, without genetic markers of virulence, the mechanisms that mediate this selection remain unknown. My thesis contributes towards a growing body of evidence that vaccines have the potential to differently alter the within-host parasite dynamics of particular pathogen genotypes and that the selection imposed is likely to be system specific, depending on the fine specificity of the vaccine-induced responses and the identity of infecting parasites. Although vaccine potency may not be enhanced by including more than one allelic variant of an antigen, multi-valent vaccines may be one of the best ways to avoid the inadvertent selection for more virulent malaria parasites.