Background: The Fulani are known to have a lower parasitaemia and less clinical episodes of malaria as compared to the Dogon sympatric ethnic group, living in Mali. Higher circulating malaria-specific antibody titers and increased pro-inflammatory cytokine levels have been shown in Fulani individuals. Several studies have tried to link haptoglobin (Hp) phenotypes with susceptibility to malaria, but without consensus. This study investigated the role of Hp phenotypes and cytokine levels in Dogon and Fulani during asymptomatic Plasmodium falciparum infection. Methods. Two different cohorts were combined in this study: a 2008 cohort with 77 children aged between two and ten years and a 2001 cohort, with 82 children and adults, aged between 11 and 68 years. Hp phenotypes in plasma were measured by Western Blot. Circulating levels of sCD163, IL-6, IL-10, IFN-γ and TNF were measured by ELISA. Multiple regression analysis was performed to associate Hp phenotypes with cytokine profiles. In addition, in vitro stimulation of peripheral blood mononuclear cells (PBMCs) with Hp:Hb complexes was performed and cytokine release in corresponding supernatants were measured using cytometric bead array. Results: The results revealed a higher Hp2-2 phenotype prevalence in the Fulani. The Hp2-2 phenotype was associated with a higher susceptibility to P. falciparum infection in Dogon, but not in Fulani. In concordance with previous studies, Fulani showed increased inflammatory mediators (IL-6, IFN-γ) and additionally also increased sCD163 levels compared to Dogon, irrespective of infection. Furthermore, infected individuals showed elevated sCD163 levels compared to uninfected individuals, in both Fulani and Dogon. Multiple regression analysis revealed that the Hp1-1 phenotype was associated with higher levels of TNF and IFN-γ, as compared to the Hp2-2 phenotype. In vitro stimulation of PBMCs with Hb:Hp1-1 complexes resulted in a pro-inflammatory cytokine profile, whilst stimulation with Hb:Hp2-2 complexes showed a more balanced profile. Conclusions: Ethnicity might be an important confounder on the Hp phenotype-dependent susceptibility to malaria and future studies could consider taking this into account when designing new immunological studies. Although, the relatively small sample size used in this study warrens for precautions in the interpretation of the data and these findings should ideally be validated in a bigger cohort.
- Haptoglobin phenotypes
- Plasmodium falciparum