Bacterial superglue generates a full-length circumsporozoite protein virus-like particle vaccine capable of inducing high and durable antibody responses

Christoph M. Janitzek, Sungwa Matondo, Susan Thrane, Morten A. Nielsen, Reginald Kavishe, Steve B. Mwakalinga, Thor G. Theander, Ali Salanti and Adam F. Sander
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Malaria, caused by Plasmodium falciparum, continues to have a devastating impact on global health, emphasizing the great need for a malaria vaccine. The circumsporozoite protein (CSP) is an attractive target for a malaria vaccine, and forms a major component of RTS,S, the most clinically advanced malaria vaccine. The clinical efficacy of RTS,S has been moderate, yet has demonstrated the viability of a CSP-based malaria vaccine. In this study, a vaccine comprised of the full-length CSP antigen presented on a virus-like particle (VLP) is produced using a split-intein conjugation system (SpyTag/SpyCatcher) and the immunogenicity is tested in mice.


Full-length 3d7 CSP protein was genetically fused at the C-terminus to SpyCatcher. The CSP-SpyCatcher antigen was then covalently attached (via the SpyTag/SpyCatcher interaction) to Acinetobacter phage AP205 VLPs which were modified to display one SpyTag per VLP subunit. To evaluate the VLP-display effect, the immunogenicity of the VLP vaccine was tested in mice and compared to a control vaccine containing AP205 VLPs plus unconjugated CSP.


Full-length CSP was conjugated at high density (an average of 112 CSP molecules per VLP) to AP205 SpyTag-VLPs. Vaccination of mice with the CSP Spy-VLP vaccine resulted in significantly increased antibody titres over a course of 7 months as compared to the control group (2.6-fold higher at 7 months after immunization). Furthermore, the CSP Spy-VLP vaccine appears to stimulate production of IgG2a antibodies, which has been linked with a more efficient clearing of intracellular parasite infection.


This study demonstrates that the high-density display of CSP on SpyTag-VLPs, significantly increases the level and quality of the vaccine-induced humoral response, compared to a control vaccine consisting of soluble CSP plus AP205 VLPs. The SpyTag-VLP platform utilized in this study constitutes a versatile and rapid method to develop highly immunogenic vaccines. It might serve as a generic tool for the cost-effective development of effective VLP-vaccines, e.g., against malaria.