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Natural killer (NK) cells are potent immune effectors that can be activated via antibody-mediated Fc receptor engagement. Using multiparameter flow cytometry, we found that NK cells degranulate and release IFN-γ upon stimulation with antibody-opsonized Plasmodium falciparum merozoites. Antibody-dependent NK (Ab-NK) activity was largely strain transcending and enhanced invasion inhibition into erythrocytes. Ab-NK was associated with the successful control of parasitemia after experimental malaria challenge in African adults. In an independent cohort study in children, Ab-NK increased with age, was boosted by concurrent P. falciparum infections, and was associated with a lower risk of clinical episodes of malaria. Nine of the 14 vaccine candidates tested induced Ab-NK, including some less well-characterized antigens: P41, P113, MSP11, RHOPH3, and Pf_11363200. These data highlight an important role of Ab-NK activity in immunity against malaria and provide a potential mechanism for evaluating vaccine candidates.

Original publication




Journal article


Science translational medicine

Publication Date





Centre of Infectious Diseases, Heidelberg University Hospital, Heidelberg, Germany.


CHMI-SIKA Study Team, Killer Cells, Natural, Animals, Humans, Plasmodium falciparum, Malaria, Malaria, Falciparum, Antibodies, Protozoan, Antigens, Protozoan, Cohort Studies, Adult, Child, Merozoites