Placental malaria is a public health burden particularly in Africa as it causes severe symptoms and results in stillbirths or maternal deaths. Plasmodium falciparum protein VAR2CSA drives placental malaria (PM) in pregnant women by adhering to chondroitin sulfate A (CSA) on the placenta. VAR2CSA is a primary vaccine candidate for PM with two vaccines based on it already under clinical trials.
Plasmodium falciparum causes placental malaria, which results in adverse outcomes for mother and child. P. falciparum-infected erythrocytes that express the parasite protein VAR2CSA on their surface can bind to placental chondroitin sulfate A. It has been hypothesized that naturally acquired antibodies towards VAR2CSA protect against placental infection, but it has proven difficult to identify robust antibody correlates of protection from disease. The objective of this study was to develop a prediction model using antibody features that could identify women protected from placental malaria.
Metastasis is the main cause of death in cancer patients. The efficacy of pharmacological therapy for cancer is limited by the heterogeneous nature of cancer cells and the lack of knowledge of microenvironments in metastasis. Evidence has shown that activated platelets possess both tumor-homing and metastasis-targeting properties via intrinsic cell adhesion molecules on platelets, and malaria protein VAR2CSA is able to specifically bind to oncofetal chondroitin sulfate, which is overexpressed on cancer cells with both epithelial and mesenchymal phenotypes.
Placental malaria can have severe consequences for both mother and child and effective vaccines are lacking. Parasite-infected red blood cells sequester in the placenta through interaction between parasite-expressed protein VAR2CSA and the glycosaminoglycan chondroitin sulfate A (CS) abundantly present in the intervillous space. Here, we report cryo-EM structures of the VAR2CSA ectodomain at up to 3.1 Å resolution revealing an overall V-shaped architecture and a complex domain organization.
As an immune evasion and survival strategy, the Plasmodium falciparum malaria parasite has evolved a protein named VAR2CSA. This protein mediates sequestration of infected red blood cells in the placenta through the interaction with a unique carbohydrate abundantly and exclusively present in the placenta. Cancer cells were found to share the same expression of this distinct carbohydrate, termed oncofetal chondroitin sulfate on their surface.
Several malaria vaccines are under various phases of development with some promising results. In placental malaria (PM) a deliberately anti-disease approach is considered as many studies have underlined the key role of VAR2CSA protein, which therefore represents the leading vaccine candidate. However, evidence indicates that VAR2CSA antigenic polymorphism remains an obstacle to overcome.
Plasmodium falciparum VAR2CSA binds to chondroitin sulfate A (CSA) on the surface of the syncytiotrophoblast during placental malaria. This interaction facilitates placental sequestration of malaria parasites resulting in severe health outcomes for both the mother and her offspring. Furthermore, CSA is presented by diverse cancer cells and specific targeting of cells by VAR2CSA may become a viable approach for cancer treatment. In the present study, we determined the cryo-electron microscopy structures of the full-length ectodomain of VAR2CSA from P. falciparum strain NF54 in complex with CSA, and VAR2CSA from a second P. falciparum strain FCR3.
The Plasmodium falciparum protein VAR2CSA is a critical mediator of placental malaria, and VAR2CSA antibodies (IgGs) are important to protect pregnant women. Although infrequently detected outside pregnancy, VAR2CSA IgGs were reported in men and children from Colombia and Brazil and in select African populations.
VAR2CSA is the placental-malaria-specific member of the antigenically variant Plasmodium falciparum erythrocyte membrane protein 1 (PfEMP1) family. It is expressed on the surface of Plasmodium falciparum-infected host red blood cells and binds to specific chondroitin-4-sulfate chains of the placental proteoglycan receptor. The functional ∼310 kDa ectodomain of VAR2CSA is a multidomain protein that requires a minimum 12-mer chondroitin-4-sulfate molecule for specific, high affinity receptor binding. However, it is not known how the individual domains are organized and interact to create the receptor-binding surface, limiting efforts to exploit its potential as an effective vaccine or drug target.
Chondroitin sulfate (CS) is the placental receptor for the VAR2CSA malaria protein, expressed at the surface of infected erythrocytes during Plasmodium falciparum infection. Infected cells adhere to syncytiotrophoblasts or get trapped within the intervillous space by binding to a determinant in a 4-O-sulfated CS chains. However, the exact structure of these glycan sequences remains unclear.