Plasmodium relictum MSP-1 capture antigen-based ELISA for detection of avian malaria antibodies in African penguins (Spheniscus demersus)

Xuejin Zhang, Siobhan N.A. Meadows, Tori Martin, Alex Doran, Rachel Angles, Samantha Sander, Ellen Bronson, William H. Witola

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


Avian malaria, caused by Plasmodium spp. and transmitted by mosquitos, is a leading cause of mortality of captive penguins. Antimalarial drugs are currently used to control infections in penguins. However, the effectiveness of treatment reduces significantly by the time the clinical signs appear, while early and unnecessary treatment interferes with development of protective immunity. Therefore, for suppressing parasitemia without affecting the development of immunity in captive penguins, antimalaria drugs need to be administered at the right time, which requires reliable diagnostic tools that can determine the levels of circulating antimalaria antibodies. In the present study, we have developed an enzyme-linked immunosorbent assay (ELISA) diagnostic assay based on the merozoite surface protein 1 (MSP-1) of P. relictum isolate SGS1 to specifically detect and relatively quantify antimalaria antibodies in penguins. We expressed and purified a truncated P. relictum isolate SGS1 MSP-1 and optimized its biotinylation and subsequent conjugation to streptavidin alkaline phosphatase for signal generation in ELISA. We tested the assay by analyzing sera obtained from penguins at the Baltimore Zoo, from Spring through Fall, and found that levels of detectable antibodies against MSP-1 varied seasonally for individual penguins, consistent with the expected seasonal variations in avian malaria prevalence. Corroboratively, we analyzed the sensitivity of the assay by titrating positive sera and found that the signal intensity generated was serum concentration-dependent, thus validating the ability of the assay to detect and relatively quantify the levels of antimalaria antibodies in penguin sera.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)89-95
Number of pages7
JournalInternational Journal for Parasitology: Parasites and Wildlife
StatePublished - Dec 2022


  • Anti-malaria antibodies
  • Captive African penguins
  • Plasmodium relictum

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Infectious Diseases
  • Animal Science and Zoology
  • Parasitology


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