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BACKGROUND: The 19 kDa C-terminal region of the merozoite surface protein 1 (MSP1(19)) has been suggested as candidate for part of a subunit vaccine against malaria. A major concern in vaccine development is the polymorphism observed in different plasmodial strains. The present study examined the extension and immunological relevance of the allelic polymorphism of the MSP1(19) from Plasmodium vivax, a major human malaria parasite. MATERIALS AND METHODS: We cloned and sequenced 88 gene fragments representing the MSP1(19) from 28 Brazilian isolates of P. vivax. Subsequently, we evaluated the reactivity of rabbit polyclonal antibodies, a monoclonal antibody, and a panel of 80 human sera to bacterial and yeast recombinant proteins representing the two allelic forms of P. vivax MSP1(19) described thus far. RESULTS: We observed that DNA sequences encoding MSP1(19) were not as variable as the equivalent region of other species of Plasmodium, being conserved among Brazilian isolates of P. vivax. Also, we found that antibodies are directed mainly to conserved epitopes present in both allelic forms of the protein. CONCLUSIONS: Our findings suggest that the use of MSP1(19) as part of a subunit vaccine against P. vivax might be greatly facilitated by the limited genetic polymorphism and predominant recognition of conserved epitopes by antibodies.