July 7, 2019  |  

Normocyte-binding protein required for human erythrocyte invasion by the zoonotic malaria parasite Plasmodium knowlesi.

The dominant cause of malaria in Malaysia is now Plasmodium knowlesi, a zoonotic parasite of cynomolgus macaque monkeys found throughout South East Asia. Comparative genomic analysis of parasites adapted to in vitro growth in either cynomolgus or human RBCs identified a genomic deletion that includes the gene encoding normocyte-binding protein Xa (NBPXa) in parasites growing in cynomolgus RBCs but not in human RBCs. Experimental deletion of the NBPXa gene in parasites adapted to growth in human RBCs (which retain the ability to grow in cynomolgus RBCs) restricted them to cynomolgus RBCs, demonstrating that this gene is selectively required for parasite multiplication and growth in human RBCs. NBPXa-null parasites could bind to human RBCs, but invasion of these cells was severely impaired. Therefore, NBPXa is identified as a key mediator of P. knowlesi human infection and may be a target for vaccine development against this emerging pathogen.

July 7, 2019  |  

High-quality genome assembly and annotation for Plasmodium coatneyi, generated using single-molecule real-time PacBio technology.

Plasmodium coatneyi is a protozoan parasite species that causes simian malaria and is an excellent model for studying disease caused by the human malaria parasite, P. falciparum Here we report the complete (nontelomeric) genome sequence of P. coatneyi Hackeri generated by the application of only Pacific Biosciences RS II (PacBio RS II) single-molecule real-time (SMRT) high-resolution sequence technology and assembly using the Hierarchical Genome Assembly Process (HGAP). This is the first Plasmodium genome sequence reported to use only PacBio technology. This approach has proven to be superior to short-read only approaches for this species. Copyright © 2016 Chien et al.

July 7, 2019  |  

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 process of repeat expansion in this protein. In the protein Hyp12, the targeting function of a lysine-rich sequence is masked by a neighbouring repetitive acidic sequence, further highlighting the importance of repetitive low complexity sequences. We show that sequences capable of targeting the erythrocyte periphery are present in at least nine proteins from Plasmodium falciparum, and one from Plasmodium knowlesi. We find these sequences in proteins known to be involved in erythrocyte rigidification and cytoadhesion, as well as in previously uncharacterised exported proteins. Together, these data suggest that expansion and contraction of lysine-rich repeats could generate targeting sequences de novo as well as modulate protein targeting efficiency and function in response to selective pressure. Copyright © 2016, The American Society for Biochemistry and Molecular Biology.

July 7, 2019  |  

Variant exported blood-stage proteins encoded by Plasmodium multigene families are expressed in liver stages where they are exported into the parasitophorous vacuole.

Many variant proteins encoded by Plasmodium-specific multigene families are exported into red blood cells (RBC). P. falciparum-specific variant proteins encoded by the var, stevor and rifin multigene families are exported onto the surface of infected red blood cells (iRBC) and mediate interactions between iRBC and host cells resulting in tissue sequestration and rosetting. However, the precise function of most other Plasmodium multigene families encoding exported proteins is unknown. To understand the role of RBC-exported proteins of rodent malaria parasites (RMP) we analysed the expression and cellular location by fluorescent-tagging of members of the pir, fam-a and fam-b multigene families. Furthermore, we performed phylogenetic analyses of the fam-a and fam-b multigene families, which indicate that both families have a history of functional differentiation unique to RMP. We demonstrate for all three families that expression of family members in iRBC is not mutually exclusive. Most tagged proteins were transported into the iRBC cytoplasm but not onto the iRBC plasma membrane, indicating that they are unlikely to play a direct role in iRBC-host cell interactions. Unexpectedly, most family members are also expressed during the liver stage, where they are transported into the parasitophorous vacuole. This suggests that these protein families promote parasite development in both the liver and blood, either by supporting parasite development within hepatocytes and erythrocytes and/or by manipulating the host immune response. Indeed, in the case of Fam-A, which have a steroidogenic acute regulatory-related lipid transfer (START) domain, we found that several family members can transfer phosphatidylcholine in vitro. These observations indicate that these proteins may transport (host) phosphatidylcholine for membrane synthesis. This is the first demonstration of a biological function of any exported variant protein family of rodent malaria parasites.

July 7, 2019  |  

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 mutations that distinguish nominally identical parasites from clonal lineages. Despite its slower evolutionary rate compared with bacterial or viral species, de novo mutation can be detected in P. falciparum across timescales of just 1-2?years and evolutionary rates in low-complexity regions of the genome can be up to twice that detected in the rest of the genome. The increased mutation rate allows the identification of separate clade expansions that cannot be found using previous genomic epidemiology approaches and could be a crucial tool for mapping residual transmission patterns in disease elimination campaigns and reintroduction scenarios.

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