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A semi-automated multiplex high-throughput assay for measuring IgG antibodies against Plasmodium falciparum erythrocyte membrane protein 1 (PfEMP1) domains in small volumes of plasma

Gerald KK Cham1*, Jonathan Kurtis2, John Lusingu3, Thor G Theander1, Anja TR Jensen1 and Louise Turner1

Author Affiliations

1 Centre for Medical Parasitology at Department of International Health, Immunology and Microbiology, University of Copenhagen and Department of Infectious Diseases, Copenhagen University Hospital, Copenhagen, Denmark

2 Centre for International Health Research, Rhode Island Hospital, Brown University School of Medicine, Providence, USA

3 National Institute for Medical Research, Tanga Centre, Tanga, Tanzania

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Malaria Journal 2008, 7:108  doi:10.1186/1475-2875-7-108

Published: 12 June 2008



The level of antibodies against PfEMP1 is routinely quantified by the conventional microtitre enzyme-linked immunosorbent assay (ELISA). However, ELISA only measures one analyte at a time and requires a relatively large plasma volume if the complete antibody profile of the sample is to be obtained. Furthermore, assay-to-assay variation and the problem of storage of antigen can influence ELISA results. The bead-based assay described here uses the BioPlex100 (BioRad, Hercules, CA, USA) system which can quantify multiple antibodies simultaneously in a small plasma volume.


A total of twenty nine PfEMP1 domains were PCR amplified from 3D7 genomic DNA, expressed in the Baculovirus system and purified by metal-affinity chromatography. The antibody reactivity level to the recombinant PfEMP1 proteins in human hyper-immune plasma was measured by ELISA. In parallel, these recombinant PfEMP1 proteins were covalently coupled onto beads each having its own unique detection signal and the human hyper-immune plasma reactivity was detected for each individual protein using a BioPlex100 system. Protein-coupled beads were analysed at two time points seven months apart, before and after lyophilization and the results compared to determine the effect of storage and lyophilization respectively on the beads. Multiplexed protein-coupled beads from twenty eight unique bead populations were evaluated on the BioPlex100 system against pooled human hyper-immune plasma before and after lyophilization.


The bead-based assay was sensitive, accurate and reproducible. Four recombinant PfEMP1 proteins C17, D5, D9 and D12, selected on the basis that they showed a spread of median fluorescent intensity (MFI) values from low to high when analysed by the bead-based assay were analysed by ELISA and the results from both analyses were highly correlated. The Spearman's rank correlation coefficients (Rho) were ≥ 0.86, (P < 0.0001) for all comparisons. Bead-based assays gave similar results regardless of whether they were performed on individual beads or on multiplexed beads; lyophilization had no impact on the assay performance. Spearman's rank correlation coefficients (Rho) were ≥ 0.97, (P < 0.0001) for all comparisons. Importantly, the reactivity of protein-coupled non-lyophilized beads decreased with long term storage at 4°C in the dark.


Using this lyophilized multiplex assay, antibody reactivity levels to twenty eight different recombinant PfEMP1 proteins were simultaneously measured using a single microliter of plasma. Thus, the assay reported here provides a useful tool for rapid and efficient quantification of antibody reactivity against PfEMP1 variants in human plasma.