Immunity to non-cerebral severe malaria is estimated to occur within 1-2 infections in areas of endemic transmission for Plasmodium falciparum. Yet, nearly 20% of infected children die annually as a result of severe malaria. Multiple risk factors are postulated to exacerbate malarial disease, one being co-infections with other pathogens. Children living in Sub-Saharan Africa are seropositive for Epstein Barr Virus (EBV) by the age of 6 months. This timing overlaps with the waning of protective maternal antibodies and susceptibility to primary Plasmodium infection. However, the impact of acute EBV infection on the generation of anti-malarial immunity is unknown. Using well established mouse models of infection, we show here that acute, but not latent murine gammaherpesvirus 68 (MHV68) infection suppresses the anti-malarial humoral response to a secondary malaria infection. Importantly, this resulted in the transformation of a non-lethal P. yoelii XNL infection into a lethal one; an outcome that is correlated with a defect in the maintenance of germinal center B cells and T follicular helper (Tfh) cells in the spleen. Furthermore, we have identified the MHV68 M2 protein as an important virus encoded protein that can: (i) suppress anti-MHV68 humoral responses during acute MHV68 infection; and (ii) plays a critical role in the observed suppression of anti-malarial humoral responses in the setting of co-infection. Notably, co-infection with an M2-null mutant MHV68 eliminates lethality of P. yoelii XNL. Collectively, our data demonstrates that an acute gammaherpesvirus infection can negatively impact the development of an anti-malarial immune response. This suggests that acute infection with EBV should be investigated as a risk factor for non-cerebral severe malaria in young children living in areas endemic for Plasmodium transmission.
Matar, C. G., Anthony, N. R., O’Flaherty, B. M., Jacobs, N. T., Priyamvada, L., Engwerda, C. R., … Lamb, T. J. (2015). Gammaherpesvirus Co-infection with Malaria Suppresses Anti-parasitic Humoral Immunity. PLoS Pathogens, 11(5). https://doi.org/10.1371/journal.ppat.1004858