Methods: We used a systems serology approach with elastic net-regularized logistic regression, partial least squares discriminant analysis, and a case-control study design to identify naturally acquired antibody features mid-pregnancy that were associated with protection from placental malaria at delivery in a cohort of 77 pregnant women from Madang, Papua New Guinea.
Results: The machine learning techniques selected 6 out of 169 measured antibody features towards VAR2CSA that could predict (with 86% accuracy) whether a woman would subsequently have active placental malaria infection at delivery. Selected features included previously described associations with inhibition of placental binding and/or opsonic phagocytosis of infected erythrocytes, and network analysis indicated that there are not one but multiple pathways to protection from placental malaria.
Conclusions: We have identified candidate antibody features that could accurately identify malaria-infected women as protected from placental infection. It is likely that there are multiple pathways to protection against placental malaria.