Plasmodium sporozoites are injected into the skin as mosquitoes probe for blood. From here, they migrate through the dermis to find blood vessels which they enter in order to be rapidly carried to the liver, where they invade hepatocytes and develop into the next life cycle stage, the exoerythrocytic stage. Once sporozoites enter the blood circulation, they are found in hepatocytes within minutes. In contrast, sporozoite exit from the inoculation site resembles a slow trickle and occurs over several hours. Thus, sporozoites spend the majority of their extracellular time at the inoculation site, raising the hypothesis that this is when the malarial parasite is most vulnerable to antibody-mediated destruction. Here, we investigate this hypothesis and demonstrate that the neutralizing capacity of circulating antibodies is greater at the inoculation site than in the blood circulation. Furthermore, these antibodies are working, at least in part, by impacting sporozoite motility at the inoculation site. Using actively and passively immunized mice, we found that most parasites are either immobilized at the site of injection or display reduced motility, particularly in their net displacement. We also found that antibodies severely impair the entry of sporozoites into the bloodstream. Overall, our data suggest that antibodies targeting the migratory sporozoite exert a large proportion of their protective effect at the inoculation site. IMPORTANCE Studies in experimental animal models and humans have shown that antibodies against Plasmodium sporozoites abolish parasite infectivity and provide sterile immunity. While it is well documented that these antibodies can be induced after immunization with attenuated parasites or subunit vaccines, the mechanisms by and location in which they neutralize parasites have not been fully elucidated. Here, we report studies indicating that these antibodies display a significant portion of their protective effect in the skin after injection of sporozoites and that one mechanism by which they work is by impairing sporozoite motility, thus diminishing their ability to reach blood vessels. These results suggest that immune protection against malaria begins at the earliest stages of parasite infection and emphasize the need of performing parasite challenge in the skin for the evaluation of protective immunity.
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