Malaria

Chafen Lu, Ph.D.

Chafen Lu, Ph.D.

Assistant Professor in Pediatrics, Harvard Medical School
Research Associate, Boston Children's Hospital
Structural basis of malaria transmission blockade by a monoclonal antibody to gamete fusogen HAP2
Feng, J., et al. Structural basis of malaria transmission blockade by a monoclonal antibody to gamete fusogen HAP2. Elife 10, (2021).Abstract
HAP2 is a transmembrane gamete fusogen found in multiple eukaryotic kingdoms and is structurally homologous to viral class II fusogens. Studies in Plasmodium have suggested that HAP2 is an attractive target for vaccines that block transmission of malaria. HAP2 has three extracellular domains, arranged in the order D2, D1, and D3. Here, we report monoclonal antibodies against the D3 fragment of Plasmodium berghei HAP2 and crystal structures of D3 in complex with Fab fragments of two of these antibodies, one of which blocks fertilization of Plasmodium berghei in vitro and transmission of malaria in mosquitoes. We also show how this Fab binds the complete HAP2 ectodomain with electron microscopy. The two antibodies cross-react with HAP2 among multiple plasmodial species. Our characterization of the Plasmodium D3 structure, HAP2 ectodomain architecture, and mechanism of inhibition provide insights for the development of a vaccine to block malaria transmission.
Design and assessment of TRAP-CSP fusion antigens as effective malaria vaccines
Lu, C., et al. Design and assessment of TRAP-CSP fusion antigens as effective malaria vaccines. PLoS One 15, 1, e0216260 (2020).Abstract
The circumsporozoite protein (CSP) and thrombospondin-related adhesion protein (TRAP) are major targets for pre-erythrocytic malaria vaccine development. However, the CSP-based vaccine RTS,S provides only marginal protection, highlighting the need for innovative vaccine design and development. Here we design and characterize expression and folding of P. berghei (Pb) and P. falciparum (Pf) TRAP-CSP fusion proteins, and evaluate immunogenicity and sterilizing immunity in mice. TRAP N-terminal domains were fused to the CSP C-terminal αTSR domain with or without the CSP repeat region, expressed in mammalian cells, and evaluated with or without N-glycan shaving. Pb and Pf fusions were each expressed substantially better than the TRAP or CSP components alone; furthermore, the fusions but not the CSP component could be purified to homogeneity and were well folded and monomeric. As yields of TRAP and CSP fragments were insufficient, we immunized BALB/c mice with Pb TRAP-CSP fusions in AddaVax adjuvant and tested the effects of absence or presence of the CSP repeats and absence or presence of high mannose N-glycans on total antibody titer and protection from infection by mosquito bite both 2.5 months and 6 months after the last immunization. Fusions containing the repeats were completely protective against challenge and re-challenge, while those lacking repeats were significantly less effective. These results correlated with higher total antibody titers when repeats were present. Our results show that TRAP-CSP fusions increase protein antigen production, have the potential to yield effective vaccines, and also guide design of effective proteins that can be encoded by nucleic acid-based and virally vectored vaccines.
Fusion surface structure, function, and dynamics of gamete fusogen HAP2
Feng, J., et al. Fusion surface structure, function, and dynamics of gamete fusogen HAP2. Elife 7, (2018).Abstract
HAP2 is a class II gamete fusogen in many eukaryotic kingdoms. A crystal structure of HAP2 shows a trimeric fusion state. Domains D1, D2.1 and D2.2 line the 3-fold axis; D3 and a stem pack against the outer surface. Surprisingly, hydrogen-deuterium exchange shows that surfaces of D1, D2.2 and D3 closest to the 3-fold axis are more dynamic than exposed surfaces. Three fusion helices in the fusion loops of each monomer expose hydrophobic residues at the trimer apex that are splayed from the 3-fold axis, leaving a solvent-filled cavity between the fusion loops in each monomer. At the base of the two fusion loops, Arg185 docks in a carbonyl cage. Comparisons to other structures, dynamics, and the greater effect on gamete fusion of mutation of axis-proximal than axis-distal fusion helices suggest that the apical portion of each monomer could tilt toward the 3-fold axis with merger of the fusion helices into a common fusion surface.
Song, G. & Springer, T.A. Structures of the Toxoplasma gliding motility adhesin. Proc Natl Acad Sci USA 111, 13, 4862-7 (2014).Abstract

Micronemal protein 2 (MIC2) is the key adhesin that supports gliding motility and host cell invasion by Toxoplasma gondii. With a von Willebrand factor A (VWA) domain and six thrombospondin repeat domains (TSR1-6) in its ectodomain, MIC2 connects to the parasite actomyosin system through its cytoplasmic tail. MIC2-associated protein (M2AP) binds noncovalently to the MIC2 ectodomain. MIC2 and M2AP are stored in micronemes as proforms. We find that the MIC2-M2AP ectodomain complex is a highly elongated 1:1 monomer with M2AP bound to the TSR6 domain. Crystal structures of N-terminal fragments containing the VWA and TSR1 domains for proMIC2 and MIC2 reveal a closed conformation of the VWA domain and how it associates with the TSR1 domain. A long, proline-rich, disulfide-bonded pigtail loop in TSR1 overlaps the VWA domain. Mannose α-C-linked to Trp-276 in TSR1 has an unusual (1)C4 chair conformation. The MIC2 VWA domain includes a mobile α5-helix and a 22-residue disordered region containing two disulfide bonds in place of an α6-helix. A hydrophobic residue in the prodomain binds to a pocket adjacent to the α7-helix that pistons in opening of the VWA domain to a putative high-affinity state.

Juan Feng, PhD

Juan Feng, PhD

Postdoctoral Research Fellow
Boston Children's Hospital, Harvard Medical School