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A longitudinal study of plasma BAFF levels in mothers and their infants in Uganda, and correlations with subsets of B cells

Caroline Rönnberg, Allan Lugaajju, Anna Nyman, Ulf Hammar, Matteo Bottai, Maximilian Julius Lautenbach, Christopher Sundling, Fred Kironde,
Published: 19 January 2021
PLOS ONE , Volume 16; doi:10.1371/journal.pone.0245431

Abstract: Malaria is a potentially life-threatening disease with approximately half of the world’s population at risk. Young children and pregnant women are hit hardest by the disease. B cells and antibodies are part of an adaptive immune response protecting individuals continuously exposed to the parasite. An infection with Plasmodium falciparum can cause dysregulation of B cell homeostasis, while antibodies are known to be key in controlling symptoms and parasitemia. BAFF is an instrumental cytokine for the development and maintenance of B cells. Pregnancy alters the immune status and renders previously clinically immune women at risk of severe malaria, potentially due to altered B cell responses associated with changes in BAFF levels. In this prospective study, we investigated the levels of BAFF in a malaria-endemic area in mothers and their infants from birth up to 9 months. We found that BAFF-levels are significantly higher in infants than in mothers. BAFF is highest in cord blood and then drops rapidly, but remains significantly higher in infants compared to mothers even at 9 months of age. We further correlated BAFF levels to P. falciparum-specific antibody levels and B cell frequencies and found a negative correlation between BAFF and both P. falciparum-specific and total proportions of IgG+ memory B cells, as well as CD27− memory B cells, indicating that exposure to both malaria and other diseases affect the development of B-cell memory and that BAFF plays a part in this. In conclusion, we have provided new information on how natural immunity against malaria is formed.
Keywords: Immune response / infants / Blood / B cells / blood plasma / Malaria / plasma cells / parasitemia

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