Antibody signatures of asymptomatic Plasmodium falciparum malaria infections measured from dried blood spots

Christine F. Markwalter, Myat Htut Nyunt, Zay Yar Han, Ricardo Henao, Aarti Jain, Omid Taghavian, Philip L. Felgner, Kay Thwe Han, Myaing M. Nyunt, Christopher V. Plowe

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

5 Scopus citations


Background: Screening malaria-specific antibody responses on protein microarrays can help identify immune factors that mediate protection against malaria infection, disease, and transmission, as well as markers of past exposure to both malaria parasites and mosquito vectors. Most malaria protein microarray work has used serum as the sample matrix, requiring prompt laboratory processing and a continuous cold chain, thus limiting applications in remote locations. Dried blood spots (DBS) pose minimal biohazard, do not require immediate laboratory processing, and are stable at room temperature for transport, making them potentially superior alternatives to serum. The goals of this study were to assess the viability of DBS as a source for antibody profiling and to use DBS to identify serological signatures of low-density Plasmodium falciparum infections in malaria-endemic regions of Myanmar. Methods: Matched DBS and serum samples from a cross-sectional study in Ingapu Township, Myanmar were probed on protein microarrays populated with P. falciparum antigen fragments. Signal and trends in both sample matrices were compared. A case-control study was then performed using banked DBS samples from malaria-endemic regions of Myanmar, and a regularized logistic regression model was used to identify antibody signatures of ultrasensitive PCR-positive P. falciparum infections. Results: Approximately 30% of serum IgG activity was recovered from DBS. Despite this loss of antibody activity, antigen and population trends were well-matched between the two sample matrices. Responses to 18 protein fragments were associated with the odds of asymptomatic P. falciparum infection, albeit with modest diagnostic characteristics (sensitivity 58%, specificity 85%, negative predictive value 88%, and positive predictive value 52%). Conclusions: Malaria-specific antibody responses can be reliably detected, quantified, and analysed from DBS, opening the door to serological studies in populations where serum collection, transport, and storage would otherwise be impossible. While test characteristics of antibody signatures were insufficient for individual diagnosis, serological testing may be useful for identifying exposure to asymptomatic, low-density malaria infections, particularly if sero-surveillance strategies target individuals with low previous exposure as sentinels for population exposure.
Original languageEnglish (US)
JournalMalaria Journal
Issue number1
StatePublished - Dec 1 2021
Externally publishedYes

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Infectious Diseases
  • Parasitology


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