Maintenance of phenotypic diversity within a set of virulence encoding genes of the malaria parasite Plasmodium falciparum
Journal of the Royal Society Interface
Copyright 2015 The Authors. Published by the Royal Society under the terms of the Creative Commons Attribution License http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/4.0/, which permits unrestricted use, provided the original author and source are credited.
Infection by the human malaria parasite Plasmodium falciparum results in a broad spectrum of clinical outcomes, ranging from severe and potentially life-threatening malaria to asymptomatic carriage. In a process of naturally acquired immunity, individuals living in malaria-endemic regions build up a level of clinical protection, which attenuates infection severity in an exposure-dependent manner. Underlying this shift in the immunoepidemiology as well as the observed range in malaria pathogenesis is the var multigene family and the phenotypic diversity embedded within. The var gene-encoded surface proteins Plasmodium falciparum erythrocyte membrane protein 1 mediate variant-specific binding of infected red blood cells to a diverse set of host receptors that has been linked to specific disease manifestations, including cerebral and pregnancy-associated malaria. Here, we show that cross-reactive immune responses, which minimize the within-host benefit of each additionally expressed gene during infection, can cause selection for maximum phenotypic diversity at the genome level. We further show that differential functional constraints on protein diversification stably maintain uneven ratios between phenotypic groups, in line with empirical observation. Our results thus suggest that the maintenance of phenotypic diversity within P. falciparum is driven by an evolutionary trade-off that optimizes between within-host parasite fitness and between-host selection pressure.
Royal Society - University Research Fellowship
Open access article This is the final version of the article. Available from the publisher via the DOI in this record.
Vol. 12 (113), article 20150848
Place of publication