Malaria caused by Plasmodium falciparum is responsible for nearly 1 million deaths annually. Although much progress has been made in the recent past, the development of a safe, effective and affordable malaria vaccine has remained a challenge. A vaccine targeting sexual stages of the parasite will not only reduce malaria transmission by female Anopheles mosquitoes, but also reduce the spread of parasites able to evade immunity elicited by vaccines targeting pre-erythrocytic and erythrocytic asexual stages. We focused our studies on Pfs48/45, a protein expressed in the sexual stages developing within an infected person and one of the most promising transmission-blocking vaccine targets. Functional immunogenicity of Pfs48/45 protein requires proper disulfide bond formation, consequently evaluation of the immunogenicity of recombinant full-length Pfs48/45 has been hampered by difficulties in expressing properly folded protein to date. Here we present a strategy involving harmonization of codons for successful recombinant expression of full length Pfs48/45 in Escherichia coli. The purified protein, designated CH-rPfs48/45, was recognized by monoclonal antibodies directed against reductionsensitive conformational epitopes in the native protein. Immunogenicity evaluation in mice revealed potent transmission blocking activity in membrane feeding assays of antisera elicited by CH-rPfs48/45 formulated in three different adjuvants, i.e. Alum, Montanide ISA-51 and complete Freund's adjuvant. More importantly, CH-rPfs48/45 formulated with Montanide ISA-51 when administered to nonhuman primates (Olive baboons, Papio anubis) resulted in uniformly high antibody responses (ELISA titers >2 million) in all five animals. Sera from these animals displayed greater than 93% blocking activity in membrane feeding assays after a single immunization, reaching nearly complete blocking after a booster dose of the vaccine. The relative ease of expression and induction of potent transmission blocking antibodies in mice and nonhuman primates provide a compelling rationale and basis for development of a CH-rPfs48/45 based malaria transmission blocking vaccine.
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