Due to the complexity of the malaria life cycle and the stage-specificity of immunity, a malaria vaccine will most likely be multicomponent, directed against surface epitopes on sporozoites, infected erythrocytes, merozoites and gametes. The CSP antigen of sporozoites is best understood at the structural and immunochemical level and vaccine trials employing peptides derived from this protein are currently underway. To date, no antigenic diversity of the immunodominant repeat epitope of the CSP protein has been uncovered in natural isolates of P. falciparum, raising optimism for eventual applicability of the laboratory trials to a field vaccine. Numerous surface antigens on merozoites and gametes have been identified with monoclonal antibodies and shown to be potential vaccine targets based on in vitro and in vivo studies with these antibodies. The problem of antigenic diversity and parasite lability seems acute in the asexual blood stages, and perhaps also with transmission-blocking antigens of gametes. Ways must be found to identify invariant surface epitopes that are so critical to parasite survival that in the face of a potentially lethal immune response mutant organisms cannot alter the target epitope and evade destruction. © 1986.
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