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Background. In developing countries vaccination against measles virus (MV) is generally administered at 9 months of age, although it is well-documented that protection of most infants by passively acquired maternal MV antibodies is waning before immunization is given. The purpose of this study was to investigate the decay of maternally derived MV antibodies in Nigerian infants as well as to compare a German and Nigerian cohort of paired mothers and newborns regarding the placental transfer efficiency of MV-specific IgG and total IgG antibodies.

Methods. MV-specific IgG antibodies were measured with a commercially available MV-enzyme-linked immunosorbent assay, a recombinant hemagglutinin enzyme-linked immunosorbent assay as well as a neutralization assay. Total IgG values were determined with a standard immunoturbidimetric test.

Results. Anti-MV IgG titers were twice as high in German newborns as in Nigerian newborns. An increased concentration of immunoglobulins transferred via the placenta was found only in the German cohort. High concentrations of total maternal IgG reduced the concentration of MV-specific as well as total IgG that crossed the placenta. Furthermore only 17% of the 4-month-old Nigerian infants were still protected against measles. Antibodies had a biologic half-life of 33 days and a biochemical half-life of 48 days.

Conclusions. Our findings demonstrate that the decay of passively acquired MV antibodies occurred even more rapidly than expected resulting in susceptibility to MV in most of the 4-month-old infants in Nigeria. Furthermore transfer of maternal anti-MV IgG and total IgG antibodies to the newborn was more efficient in the German cohort compared with the Nigerian group. These findings suggest the use of alternative vaccination strategies in developing countries to possibly reduce the window of susceptibility against measles.

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