Whole-sporozoite vaccines engender sterilizing immunity against malaria in animal models and importantly, in humans. Gene editing allows for the removal of specific parasite genes, enabling generation of genetically attenuated parasite (GAP) strains for vaccination. Using rodent malaria parasites, we have previously shown that late liver stage–arresting replication-competent (LARC) GAPs confer superior protection when compared with early liver stage–arresting replication-deficient GAPs and radiation-attenuated sporozoites. However, generating a LARC GAP in the human malaria parasite Plasmodium falciparum (P. falciparum) has been challenging. Here, we report the generation and characterization of a likely unprecedented P. falciparum LARC GAP generated by targeted gene deletion of the Mei2 gene: P. falciparum mei2–. Robust exoerythrocytic schizogony with extensive cell growth and DNA replication was observed for P. falciparum mei2– liver stages in human liver-chimeric mice. However, P. falciparum mei2– liver stages failed to complete development and did not form infectious exoerythrocytic merozoites, thereby preventing their transition to asexual blood stage infection. Therefore, P. falciparum mei2– is a replication-competent, attenuated human malaria parasite strain with potentially increased potency, useful for vaccination to protect against P. falciparum malaria infection.
Debashree Goswami, William Betz, Navin K. Locham, Chaitra Parthiban, Carolyn Brager, Carola Schäfer, Nelly Camargo, Thao Nguyen, Spencer Y. Kennedy, Sean C. Murphy, Ashley M. Vaughan, Stefan H.I. Kappe