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July 1, 2018

De novo mutations resolve disease transmission pathways in clonal malaria

Detecting de novo mutations in viral and bacterial pathogens enables researchers to reconstruct detailed networks of disease transmission and is a key technique in genomic epidemiology. However, these techniques have not yet been applied to the malaria parasite, Plasmodium falciparum, in which a larger genome, slower generation times, and a complex life cycle make them difficult to implement. Here, we demonstrate the viability of de novo mutation studies in P. falciparum for the first time. Using a combination of sequencing, library preparation, and genotyping methods that have been optimized for accuracy in low-complexity genomic regions, we have detected de novo…

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May 1, 2018

Genomes of all known members of a Plasmodium subgenus reveal paths to virulent human malaria.

Plasmodium falciparum, the most virulent agent of human malaria, shares a recent common ancestor with the gorilla parasite Plasmodium praefalciparum. Little is known about the other gorilla- and chimpanzee-infecting species in the same (Laverania) subgenus as P. falciparum, but none of them are capable of establishing repeated infection and transmission in humans. To elucidate underlying mechanisms and the evolutionary history of this subgenus, we have generated multiple genomes from all known Laverania species. The completeness of our dataset allows us to conclude that interspecific gene transfers, as well as convergent evolution, were important in the evolution of these species. Striking…

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April 23, 2018

Long read assemblies of geographically dispersed Plasmodium falciparum isolates reveal highly structured subtelomeres.

Background: Although thousands of clinical isolates of Plasmodium falciparum are being sequenced and analysed by short read technology, the data do not resolve the highly variable subtelomeric regions of the genomes that contain polymorphic gene families involved in immune evasion and pathogenesis. There is also no current standard definition of the boundaries of these variable subtelomeric regions. Methods: Using long-read sequence data (Pacific Biosciences SMRT technology), we assembled and annotated the genomes of 15 P. falciparum isolates, ten of which are newly cultured clinical isolates. We performed comparative analysis of the entire genome with particular emphasis on the subtelomeric regions…

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November 1, 2017

Repetitive sequences in malaria parasite proteins.

Five species of parasite cause malaria in humans with the most severe disease caused by Plasmodium falciparum. Many of the proteins encoded in the P. falciparum genome are unusually enriched in repetitive low-complexity sequences containing a limited repertoire of amino acids. These repetitive sequences expand and contract dynamically and are among the most rapidly changing sequences in the genome. The simplest repetitive sequences consist of single amino acid repeats such as poly-asparagine tracts that are found in approximately 25% of P. falciparum proteins. More complex repeats of two or more amino acids are also common in diverse parasite protein families.…

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August 11, 2017

Increased risk of low birth weight in women with placental malaria associated with P. falciparum VAR2CSA clade.

Pregnancy associated malaria (PAM) causes adverse pregnancy and birth outcomes owing to Plasmodium falciparum accumulation in the placenta. Placental accumulation is mediated by P. falciparum protein VAR2CSA, a leading PAM-specific vaccine target. The extent of its antigen diversity and impact on clinical outcomes remain poorly understood. Through amplicon deep-sequencing placental malaria samples from women in Malawi and Benin, we assessed sequence diversity of VAR2CSA's ID1-DBL2x region, containing putative vaccine targets and estimated associations of specific clades with adverse birth outcomes. Overall, var2csa diversity was high and haplotypes subdivided into five clades, the largest two defined by homology to parasites strains,…

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August 8, 2017

Chromosome end repair and genome stability in Plasmodium falciparum.

The human malaria parasite Plasmodium falciparum replicates within circulating red blood cells, where it is subjected to conditions that frequently cause DNA damage. The repair of DNA double-stranded breaks (DSBs) is thought to rely almost exclusively on homologous recombination (HR), due to a lack of efficient nonhomologous end joining. However, given that the parasite is haploid during this stage of its life cycle, the mechanisms involved in maintaining genome stability are poorly understood. Of particular interest are the subtelomeric regions of the chromosomes, which contain the majority of the multicopy variant antigen-encoding genes responsible for virulence and disease severity. Here,…

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August 1, 2017

A new method for sequencing the hypervariable Plasmodium falciparum gene var2csa from clinical samples.

VAR2CSA, a member of the Plasmodium falciparum erythrocyte membrane protein 1 (PfEMP1) family, mediates the binding of P. falciparum-infected erythrocytes to chondroitin sulfate A, a surface-associated molecule expressed in placental cells, and plays a central role in the pathogenesis of placental malaria. VAR2CSA is a target of naturally acquired immunity and, as such, is a leading vaccine candidate against placental malaria. This protein is very polymorphic and technically challenging to sequence. Published var2csa sequences, mostly limited to specific domains, have been generated through the sequencing of cloned PCR amplicons using capillary electrophoresis, a method that is both time consuming and…

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July 17, 2017

Proteomic analysis of extracellular vesicles from a Plasmodium falciparum Kenyan clinical isolate defines a core parasite secretome.

Many pathogens secrete effector molecules to subvert host immune responses, to acquire nutrients, and/or to prepare host cells for invasion. One of the ways that effector molecules are secreted is through extracellular vesicles (EVs) such as exosomes. Recently, the malaria parasite P. falciparum has been shown to produce EVs that can mediate transfer of genetic material between parasites and induce sexual commitment. Characterizing the content of these vesicles may improve our understanding of P. falciparum pathogenesis and virulence.Previous studies of P. falciparum EVs have been limited to long-term adapted laboratory isolates. In this study, we isolated EVs from a Kenyan…

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February 6, 2017

Antibody-independent mechanisms regulate the establishment of chronic Plasmodium infection.

Malaria is caused by parasites of the genus Plasmodium. All human-infecting Plasmodium species can establish long-lasting chronic infections(1-5), creating an infectious reservoir to sustain transmission(1,6). It is widely accepted that the maintenance of chronic infection involves evasion of adaptive immunity by antigenic variation(7). However, genes involved in this process have been identified in only two of five human-infecting species: Plasmodium falciparum and Plasmodium knowlesi. Furthermore, little is understood about the early events in the establishment of chronic infection in these species. Using a rodent model we demonstrate that from the infecting population, only a minority of parasites, expressing one of…

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December 9, 2016

Expansion of lysine-rich repeats in Plasmodium proteins generates novel localisation sequences that target the periphery of the host erythrocyte.

Repetitive low-complexity sequences, mostly assumed to have no function, are common in proteins that are exported by the malaria parasite into its host erythrocyte. We identify a group of exported proteins containing short lysine-rich tandemly repeated sequences that are sufficient to localise to the erythrocyte periphery where key virulence-related modifications to the plasma membrane and the underlying cytoskeleton are known to occur. Efficiency of targeting is dependent on repeat number, indicating that novel targeting modules could evolve by expansion of short lysine-rich sequences. Indeed, expression GARP fragments from different species shows that two novel targeting sequences have arisen via the…

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