[Show abstract][Hide abstract] ABSTRACT: Background
Polymorphism in antigens is a common mechanism for immune evasion used by many important pathogens, and presents major challenges in vaccine development. In malaria, many key immune targets and vaccine candidates show substantial polymorphism. However, knowledge on antigenic diversity of key antigens, the impact of polymorphism on potential vaccine escape, and how sequence polymorphism relates to antigenic differences is very limited, yet crucial for vaccine development. Plasmodium falciparum apical membrane antigen 1 (AMA1) is an important target of naturally-acquired antibodies in malaria immunity and a leading vaccine candidate. However, AMA1 has extensive allelic diversity with more than 60 polymorphic amino acid residues and more than 200 haplotypes in a single population. Therefore, AMA1 serves as an excellent model to assess antigenic diversity in malaria vaccine antigens and the feasibility of multi-allele vaccine approaches. While most previous research has focused on sequence diversity and antibody responses in laboratory animals, little has been done on the cross-reactivity of human antibodies.Methods
We aimed to determine the extent of antigenic diversity of AMA1, defined by reactivity with human antibodies, and to aid the identification of specific alleles for potential inclusion in a multi-allele vaccine. We developed an approach using a multiple-antigen-competition enzyme-linked immunosorbent assay (ELISA) to examine cross-reactivity of naturally-acquired antibodies in Papua New Guinea and Kenya, and related this to differences in AMA1 sequence.ResultsWe found that adults had greater cross-reactivity of antibodies than children, although the patterns of cross-reactivity to alleles were the same. Patterns of antibody cross-reactivity were very similar between populations (Papua New Guinea and Kenya), and over time. Further, our results show that antigenic diversity of AMA1 alleles is surprisingly restricted, despite extensive sequence polymorphism. Our findings suggest that a combination of three different alleles, if selected appropriately, may be sufficient to cover the majority of antigenic diversity in polymorphic AMA1 antigens. Antigenic properties were not strongly related to existing haplotype groupings based on sequence analysis.Conclusions
Antigenic diversity of AMA1 is limited and a vaccine including a small number of alleles might be sufficient for coverage against naturally-circulating strains, supporting a multi-allele approach for developing polymorphic antigens as malaria vaccines.
[Show abstract][Hide abstract] ABSTRACT: Plasmodium falciparum is the causative agent of the most severe form of malaria in humans. The merozoite, an extracellular stage of the parasite lifecycle, invades erythrocytes in which they develop. The most abundant protein on the surface of merozoites is Merozoite Surface Protein 1 (MSP1), which consists of four processed fragments. Studies have indicated that MSP1 interacts with other peripheral merozoite surface proteins to form a large complex. Successful invasion of merozoites into host erythrocytes is dependent on this protein complex; however, the identity of all components and its function remain largely unknown. We have shown that the peripheral merozoite surface proteins, MSPDBL1 and MSPDBL2 are part of the large MSP1 complex. Using Surface Plasmon Resonance, we determined the binding affinities of MSPDBL1 and MSPDBL2 to MSP1 to be 171.6 nM and 445.4 nM respectively. Both proteins bind to 3 of the 4 proteolytically cleaved fragments of MSP1 (P42, P38 and P83). In addition, MSPDBL1 and MSPDBL2, but not MSP1, bind directly to human erythrocytes. This demonstrates that the MSP1 complex acts as a platform for display of MSPDBL1 and MSPDBL2 on the merozoite surface for binding to receptors on the erythrocyte and invasion.
Journal of Biological Chemistry 07/2014; · 4.65 Impact Factor
[Show abstract][Hide abstract] ABSTRACT: The malaria parasite Plasmodium falciparum exports several hundred proteins into the infected erythrocyte that are involved in cellular remodeling and severe virulence. The export mechanism involves the Plasmodium export element (PEXEL), which is a cleavage site for the parasite protease, Plasmepsin V (PMV). The PMV gene is refractory to deletion, suggesting it is essential, but definitive proof is lacking. Here, we generated a PEXEL-mimetic inhibitor that potently blocks the activity of PMV isolated from P. falciparum and Plasmodium vivax. Assessment of PMV activity in P. falciparum revealed PEXEL cleavage occurs cotranslationaly, similar to signal peptidase. Treatment of P. falciparum-infected erythrocytes with the inhibitor caused dose-dependent inhibition of PEXEL processing as well as protein export, including impaired display of the major virulence adhesin, PfEMP1, on the erythrocyte surface, and cytoadherence. The inhibitor killed parasites at the trophozoite stage and knockdown of PMV enhanced sensitivity to the inhibitor, while overexpression of PMV increased resistance. This provides the first direct evidence that PMV activity is essential for protein export in Plasmodium spp. and for parasite survival in human erythrocytes and validates PMV as an antimalarial drug target.
[Show abstract][Hide abstract] ABSTRACT: Plasmodium falciparum serine repeat antigen 5 (PfSERA5) is an abundant blood stage protein that plays an essential role in merozoites egress and invasion. The native protein undergoes extensive proteolytic cleavage that appears to be tightly regulated. PfSERA5 N-terminal fragment is being developed as vaccine candidate antigen. Although PfSERA5 belongs to papain-like cysteine protease family, its catalytic domain has a serine in place of cysteine at the active site.
In the present study, we synthesized a number of peptides from the N- and C- terminal regions of PfSERA5 active domain and evaluated their inhibitory potential.
The final proteolytic step of PfSERA5 involves removal of a C-terminal ~6kDa fragment that results in the generation of a catalytically active ~50kDa enzyme. In the present study, we demonstrate that two of the peptides derived from the C-terminal ~6kDa region inhibit the parasite growth and also cause a delay in the parasite development. These peptides reduced the enzyme activity of the recombinant protein and co-localized with the PfSERA5 protein within the parasite, thereby indicating the specific inhibition of PfSERA5 activity. Molecular docking studies revealed that the inhibitory peptides interact with the active site of the protein. Interestingly, the peptides did not have an effect on the processing of PfSERA5.
Our observations indicate the temporal regulation of the final proteolytic cleavage step that occurs just prior to egress.
These results reinforce the role of PfSERA5 for the intra-erythrocytic development of malaria parasite and show the role of carboxy terminal~6kDa fragments in the regulation of PfSERA5 activity. The results also suggest that final cleavage step of PfSERA5 can be targeted for the development of new anti-malarials.
Biochimica et Biophysica Acta 04/2014; · 4.66 Impact Factor
[Show abstract][Hide abstract] ABSTRACT: Plasmodium falciparum causes malaria disease during the asexual blood stages of infection when the merozoite invades erythrocytes and replicates. Merozoite surface proteins (MSPs) are proposed to play a role in the initial binding of merozoites to the erythrocyte, but precise roles remain undefined. Based on electron microscopy studies of invading Plasmodium merozoites, it is proposed that the majority of MSPs are cleaved and shed from the surface during invasion, perhaps to release receptor-ligand interactions. In this study, we demonstrate that there is not universal cleavage of MSPs during invasion. Instead, there is sequential and coordinated cleavage and shedding of proteins, indicating a diversity of roles for surface proteins during and after invasion. While MSP1 and peripheral surface proteins such as MSP3, MSP7, SERA4 and SERA5 are cleaved and shed at the tight junction between the invading merozoite and erythrocyte, the GPI-anchored proteins, MSP2 and MSP4, are carried into the erythrocyte without detectable processing. Following invasion, MSP2 rapidly degrades within ten minutes, whereas MSP4 is maintained for hours. This suggests that while some proteins that are shed on invasion may have roles in initial contact steps, others function during invasion and are then rapidly degraded, whereas others are internalized for roles during intra-erythrocytic development. Interestingly, anti-MSP2 antibodies did not inhibit invasion and instead were carried into the erythrocyte and maintained for approximately 20 hours without inhibiting parasite development. These findings provide new insights into the mechanisms of invasion and knowledge to advance the development of new drugs and vaccines against malaria.
Infection and immunity 11/2013; · 4.21 Impact Factor
[Show abstract][Hide abstract] ABSTRACT: The development of effective malaria vaccines and immune biomarkers of malaria is a high priority for malaria control and elimination. Ags expressed by merozoites of Plasmodium falciparum are likely to be important targets of human immunity and are promising vaccine candidates, but very few Ags have been studied. We developed an approach to assess Ab responses to a comprehensive repertoire of merozoite proteins and investigate whether they are targets of protective Abs. We expressed 91 recombinant proteins, located on the merozoite surface or within invasion organelles, and screened them for quality and reactivity to human Abs. Subsequently, Abs to 46 proteins were studied in a longitudinal cohort of 206 Papua New Guinean children to define Ab acquisition and associations with protective immunity. Ab responses were higher among older children and those with active parasitemia. High-level Ab responses to rhoptry and microneme proteins that function in erythrocyte invasion were identified as being most strongly associated with protective immunity compared with other Ags. Additionally, Abs to new or understudied Ags were more strongly associated with protection than were Abs to current vaccine candidates that have progressed to phase 1 or 2 vaccine trials. Combinations of Ab responses were identified that were more strongly associated with protective immunity than responses to their single-Ag components. This study identifies Ags that are likely to be key targets of protective human immunity and facilitates the prioritization of Ags for further evaluation as vaccine candidates and/or for use as biomarkers of immunity in malaria surveillance and control.
The Journal of Immunology 06/2013; · 5.52 Impact Factor
[Show abstract][Hide abstract] ABSTRACT: Plasmodium falciparum exports several hundred effector proteins that remodel the host erythrocyte and enable parasites to acquire nutrients, sequester in the circulation and evade immune responses. The majority of exported proteins contain the Plasmodium export element (PEXEL; RxLxE/Q/D) in their N-terminus, which is proteolytically cleaved in the parasite endoplasmic reticulum by Plasmepsin V, and is necessary for export. Several exported proteins lack a PEXEL or contain non-canonical motifs. Here, we assessed whether Plasmepsin V could process the N-termini of diverse protein families in P. falciparum. We show that Plasmepsin V cleaves N-terminal sequences from RIFIN, STEVOR and RESA multigene families, the latter of which contain a relaxed PEXEL (RxLxxE). However, Plasmepsin V does not cleave the N-terminal sequence of the major exported virulence factor Erythrocyte Membrane Protein 1 (PfEMP1) or the PEXEL-negative exported proteins SBP-1 or REX-2. We probed the substrate specificity of Plasmepsin V and determined that lysine at the PEXEL P3 position, which is present in PfEMP1 and other putatively exported proteins, blocks Plasmepsin V activity. Furthermore, isoleucine at position P1 also blocked Plasmepsin V activity. The specificity of Plasmepsin V is therefore exquisitely confined and we have used this novel information to redefine the predicted P. falciparum PEXEL exportome.
[Show abstract][Hide abstract] ABSTRACT: A highly effective vaccine against Plasmodium falciparum malaria should induce potent, strain transcending immunity that broadly protects against the diverse population of parasites circulating globally. We aimed to identify vaccine candidates that fulfill the criteria.
We have measured growth inhibitory activity of antibodies raised to a range of antigens to identify those that can efficiently block merozoite invasion for geographically diverse strains of P. falciparum.
This has shown that the conserved Region III-V, of the P. falciparum erythrocyte-binding antigen (EBA)-175 was able to induce antibodies that potently inhibit merozoite invasion across diverse parasite strains, including those reliant on invasion pathways independent of EBA-175 function. Additionally, the conserved RIII-V domain of EBA-140 also induced antibodies with strong in vitro parasite growth inhibitory activity.
We identify an alternative, highly conserved region (RIV-V) of EBA-175, present in all EBA proteins, that is the target of potent, strain transcending neutralizing antibodies, that represents a strong candidate for development as a component in a malaria vaccine.
PLoS ONE 01/2013; 8(9):e72504. · 3.53 Impact Factor
[Show abstract][Hide abstract] ABSTRACT: Invasion of human red blood cells by Plasmodium falciparum involves interaction of the merozoite form through proteins on the surface coat. The erythrocyte binding-like protein family functions after initial merozoite interaction by binding via the Duffy binding-like (DBL) domain to receptors on the host red blood cell. The merozoite surface proteins DBL1 and -2 (PfMSPDBL1 and PfMSPDBL2) (PF10_0348 and PF10_0355) are extrinsically associated with the merozoite, and both have a DBL domain in each protein. We expressed and refolded recombinant DBL domains for PfMSPDBL1 and -2 and show they are functional. The red cell binding characteristics of these domains were shown to be similar to full-length forms of these proteins isolated from parasite cultures. Futhermore, metal cofactors were found to enhance the binding of both the DBL domains and the parasite-derived full-length proteins to erythrocytes, which has implications for receptor binding of other DBL-containing proteins in Plasmodium spp. We solved the structure of the erythrocyte-binding DBL domain of PfMSPDBL2 to 2.09 Å resolution and modeled that of PfMSPDBL1, revealing a canonical DBL fold consisting of a boomerang shaped α-helical core formed from three subdomains. PfMSPDBL2 is highly polymorphic, and mapping of these mutations shows they are on the surface, predominantly in the first two domains. For both PfMSPDBL proteins, polymorphic variation spares the cleft separating domains 1 and 2 from domain 3, and the groove between the two major helices of domain 3 extends beyond the cleft, indicating these regions are functionally important and are likely to be associated with the binding of a receptor on the red blood cell.
Journal of Biological Chemistry 07/2012; 287(39):32922-39. · 4.65 Impact Factor
[Show abstract][Hide abstract] ABSTRACT: Apical Membrane Antigen 1 (AMA1) is a leading malaria vaccine candidate and a target of naturally-acquired human immunity. Plasmodium falciparum AMA1 is polymorphic and in vaccine trials it induces strain-specific protection. This antigenic diversity is a major roadblock to development of AMA1 as a malaria vaccine and understanding how to overcome it is essential. To assess how AMA1 antigenic diversity limits cross-strain growth inhibition, we assembled a panel of 18 different P. falciparum isolates which are broadly representative of global AMA1 sequence diversity. Antibodies raised against four well studied AMA1 alleles (W2Mef, 3D7, HB3 and FVO) were tested for growth inhibition of the 18 different P. falciparum isolates in growth inhibition assays (GIA). All antibodies demonstrated substantial cross-inhibitory activity against different isolates and a mixture of the four different AMA1 antibodies inhibited all 18 isolates tested, suggesting significant antigenic overlap between AMA1 alleles and limited antigenic diversity of AMA1. Cross-strain inhibition by antibodies was only moderately and inconsistently correlated with the level of sequence diversity between AMA1 alleles, suggesting that sequence differences are not a strong predictor of antigenic differences or the cross-inhibitory activity of anti-allele antibodies. The importance of the highly polymorphic C1-L region for inhibitory antibodies and potential vaccine escape was assessed by generating novel transgenic P. falciparum lines for testing in GIA. While the polymorphic C1-L epitope was identified as a significant target of some growth-inhibitory antibodies, these antibodies only constituted a minor proportion of the total inhibitory antibody repertoire, suggesting that the antigenic diversity of inhibitory epitopes is limited. Our findings support the concept that a multi-allele AMA1 vaccine would give broad coverage against the diversity of AMA1 alleles and establish new tools to define polymorphisms important for vaccine escape.
PLoS ONE 01/2012; 7(12):e51023. · 3.53 Impact Factor
[Show abstract][Hide abstract] ABSTRACT: The genomes of Plasmodium parasites that cause malaria in humans, other primates, birds, and rodents all encode multiple 6-cys proteins. Distinct 6-cys protein family members reside on the surface at each extracellular life cycle stage and those on the surface of liver infective and sexual stages have been shown to play important roles in hepatocyte growth and fertilization respectively. However, 6-cys proteins associated with the blood-stage forms of the parasite have no known function. Here we investigate the biochemical nature and function of two blood-stage 6-cys proteins in Plasmodium falciparum, the most pathogenic species to afflict humans. We show that native P12 and P41 form a stable heterodimer on the infective merozoite surface and are secreted following invasion, but could find no evidence that this complex mediates erythrocyte-receptor binding. That P12 and P41 do not appear to have a major role as adhesins to erythrocyte receptors was supported by the observation that antisera to these proteins did not substantially inhibit erythrocyte invasion. To investigate other functional roles for these proteins their genes were successfully disrupted in P. falciparum, however P12 and P41 knockout parasites grew at normal rates in vitro and displayed no other obvious phenotypic changes. It now appears likely that these blood-stage 6-cys proteins operate as a pair and play redundant roles either in erythrocyte invasion or in host-immune interactions.
PLoS ONE 01/2012; 7(7):e41937. · 3.53 Impact Factor
[Show abstract][Hide abstract] ABSTRACT: Plasmodium falciparum, the causative agent of the most severe form of malaria in humans invades erythrocytes using multiple ligand-receptor interactions. The P. falciparum reticulocyte binding-like homologue proteins (PfRh or PfRBL) are important for entry of the invasive merozoite form of the parasite into red blood cells. We have analysed two members of this protein family, PfRh2a and PfRh2b, and show they undergo a complex series of proteolytic cleavage events before and during merozoite invasion. We show that PfRh2a undergoes a cleavage event in the transmembrane region during invasion consistent with activity of the membrane associated PfROM4 protease that would result in release of the ectodomain into the supernatant. We also show that PfRh2a and PfRh2b bind to red blood cells and have defined the erythrocyte-binding domain to a 15 kDa region at the N-terminus of each protein. Antibodies to this receptor-binding region block merozoite invasion demonstrating the important function of this domain. This region of PfRh2a and PfRh2b has potential in a combination vaccine with other erythrocyte binding ligands for induction of antibodies that would block a broad range of invasion pathways for P. falciparum into human erythrocytes.
[Show abstract][Hide abstract] ABSTRACT: Plasmodium falciparum causes the virulent form of malaria and disease manifestations are linked to growth inside infected erythrocytes. To survive and evade host responses the parasite remodels the erythrocyte by exporting several hundred effector proteins beyond the surrounding parasitophorous vacuole membrane. A feature of exported proteins is a pentameric motif (RxLxE/Q/D) that is a substrate for an unknown protease. Here we show that the protein responsible for cleavage of this motif is plasmepsin V (PMV), an aspartic acid protease located in the endoplasmic reticulum. PMV cleavage reveals the export signal (xE/Q/D) at the amino terminus of cargo proteins. Expression of an identical mature protein with xQ at the N terminus generated by signal peptidase was not exported, demonstrating that PMV activity is essential and linked with other key export events. Identification of the protease responsible for export into erythrocytes provides a novel target for therapeutic intervention against this devastating disease.
[Show abstract][Hide abstract] ABSTRACT: Several merozoite surface proteins are being assessed as potential components of a vaccine against Plasmodium falciparum, the cause of the most serious form of human malaria. One of these proteins, merozoite surface protein 2 (MSP2), is unusually hydrophilic and contains tandem sequence repeats, characteristics of intrinsically unstructured proteins. A range of physicochemical studies has confirmed that recombinant forms of MSP2 are largely unstructured. Both dimorphic types of MSP2 (3D7 and FC27) are equivalently extended in solution and form amyloid-like fibrils although with different kinetics and structural characteristics. These fibrils have a regular underlying beta-sheet structure and both fibril types stain with Congo Red, but only the FC27 fibrils stain with Thioflavin T. 3D7 MSP2 fibrils seeded the growth of fibrils from 3D7 or FC27 MSP2 monomer indicating the involvement of a conserved region of MSP2 in fibril formation. Consistent with this, digestion of fibrils with proteinase K generated resistant peptides, which included the N-terminal conserved region of MSP2. A monoclonal antibody that reacted preferentially with monomeric recombinant MSP2 did not react with the antigen in situ on the merozoite surface. Glutaraldehyde cross-linking of infected erythrocytes generated MSP2 oligomers similar to those formed by polymeric recombinant MSP2. We conclude that MSP2 oligomers containing intermolecular beta-strand interactions similar to those in amyloid fibrils may be a component of the fibrillar surface coat on P. falciparum merozoites.
Molecular and Biochemical Parasitology 09/2009; 166(2):159-71. · 2.73 Impact Factor
[Show abstract][Hide abstract] ABSTRACT: The sera genes of the malaria-causing parasite Plasmodium encode a family of unique proteins that are maximally expressed at the time of egress of parasites from infected red blood cells. These multi-domain proteins are unique, containing a central papain-like cysteine-protease fragment enclosed between the disulfide-linked N- and C-terminal domains. However, the central fragment of several members of this family, including serine repeat antigen 5 (SERA5), contains a serine (S596) in place of the active-site cysteine. Here we report the crystal structure of the central protease-like domain of Plasmodium falciparum SERA5, revealing a number of anomalies in addition to the putative nucleophilic serine: (1) the structure of the putative active site is not conducive to binding substrate in the canonical cysteine-protease manner; (2) the side chain of D594 restricts access of substrate to the putative active site; and (3) the S(2) specificity pocket is occupied by the side chain of Y735, reducing this site to a small depression on the protein surface. Attempts to determine the structure in complex with known inhibitors were not successful. Thus, despite having revealed its structure, the function of the catalytic domain of SERA5 remains an enigma.
Journal of Molecular Biology 08/2009; 392(1):154-65. · 3.91 Impact Factor
[Show abstract][Hide abstract] ABSTRACT: The Apicomplexan parasite responsible for the most virulent form of malaria, Plasmodium falciparum, invades human erythrocytes through multiple ligand-receptor interactions. The P. falciparum reticulocyte-binding protein homologue (PfRh or PfRBL) family have been implicated in the invasion process but their exact role is unknown. PfRh1 and PfRh4, members of this protein family, bind to red blood cells and function in merozoite invasion during which they undergo a series of proteolytic cleavage events before and during entry into the host cell. The ectodomain of PfRh1 and PfRh4 are processed to produce fragments consistent with cleavage in the transmembrane domain and released into the supernatant, at about the time of invasion, in a manner consistent with rhomboid protease cleavage. Processing of both PfRh1 and PfRh4, and by extrapolation all membrane-bound members of this protein family, is important for function and release of these proteins on the merozoite surface and they along with EBA-175 are important components of the tight junction, the transient structure that links the erythrocyte via receptor-ligand interactions to the actin-myosin motor in the invading merozoite.
[Show abstract][Hide abstract] ABSTRACT: Virulence of Plasmodium falciparum, the most lethal parasitic disease in humans, results in part from adhesiveness and increased rigidity of infected erythrocytes. Pf332 is trafficked to the parasite-infected erythrocyte via Maurer's clefts, structures for protein sorting and export in the host erythrocyte. This protein has a domain similar to the Duffy-binding-like (DBL) domain, which functions by binding to receptors for adherence and invasion. To address structure of the Pf332 DBL domain, we expressed this region, and validated its fold on the basis of the disulphide bond pattern, which conformed to the generic pattern for DBL domains. The modelled structure for Pf332 DBL had differences compared with the erythrocyte-binding region of the alphaDBL domain of Plasmodium knowlesi Duffy-binding protein (Pk alpha-DBL). We addressed the function of Pf332 by constructing parasites that either lack expression of the protein or express an altered form. We found no evidence that Pf332 is involved in cytoadhesion or merozoite invasion. Truncation of Pf332 had a significant effect on deformability of the P. falciparum-infected erythrocyte, while loss of the full protein deletion did not. Our data suggest that Pf332 may contribute to the overall deformability of the P. falciparum-infected erythrocyte by anchoring and scaffolding.
[Show abstract][Hide abstract] ABSTRACT: The serine repeat antigen (SERA) proteins of the malaria parasites Plasmodium spp. contain a putative enzyme domain similar to that of papain family cysteine proteases. In Plasmodium falciparum parasites, more than half of the SERA family proteins, including the most abundantly expressed form, SERA5, have a cysteine-to-serine substitution within the putative catalytic triad of the active site. Although SERA5 is required for blood-stage parasite survival, the occurrence of a noncanonical catalytic triad casts doubt on the importance of the enzyme domain in this function. We used phage display to identify a small (14-residue) disulfide-bonded cyclic peptide (SBP1) that targets the enzyme domain of SERA5. Biochemical characterization of the interaction shows that it is dependent on the conformation of both the peptide and protein. Addition of this peptide to parasite cultures compromised development of late-stage parasites compared to that of control parasites or those incubated with equivalent amounts of the carboxymethylated peptide. This effect was similar in two different strains of P. falciparum as well as in a transgenic strain where the gene encoding the related serine-type parasitophorous vacuole protein SERA4 was deleted. In compromised parasites, the SBP1 peptide crosses both the erythrocyte and parasitophorous vacuole membranes and accumulates within the parasitophorous vacuole. In addition, both SBP1 and SERA5 were identified in the parasite cytosol, indicating that the plasma membrane of the parasite was compromised as a result of SBP1 treatment. These data implicate an important role for SERA5 in the regulation of the intraerythrocytic development of late-stage parasites and as a target for drug development.
Infection and immunity 07/2008; 76(9):4332-44. · 4.21 Impact Factor
[Show abstract][Hide abstract] ABSTRACT: Serine repeat antigens (SERAs) are a family of secreted "cysteine-like" proteases of Plasmodium parasites. Several SERAs possess an atypical active-site serine residue in place of the canonical cysteine. The human malaria parasite Plasmodium falciparum possesses six "serine-type" (SERA1 to SERA5 and SERA9) and three "cysteine-type" (SERA6 to SERA8) SERAs. Here, we investigate the importance of the serine-type SERAs to blood-stage parasite development and examine the extent of functional redundancy among this group. We attempted to knock out the four P. falciparum serine-type SERA genes that have not been disrupted previously. SERA1, SERA4, and SERA9 knockout lines were generated, while only SERA5, the most strongly expressed member of the SERA family, remained refractory to genetic deletion. Interestingly, we discovered that while SERA4-null parasites completed the blood-stage cycle normally, they exhibited a twofold increase in the level of SERA5 mRNA. The inability to disrupt SERA5 and the apparent compensatory increase in SERA5 expression in response to the deletion of SERA4 provides evidence for an important blood-stage function for the serine-type SERAs and supports the notion of functional redundancy among this group. Such redundancy is consistent with our phylogenetic analysis, which reveals a monophyletic grouping of the serine-type SERAs across the genus Plasmodium and a predominance of postspeciation expansion. While SERA5 is to some extent further validated as a target for vaccine and drug development, our data suggest that the expression level of other serine-type SERAs is the only barrier to escape from anti-SERA5-specific interventions.
Infection and immunity 01/2008; 75(12):5565-74. · 4.21 Impact Factor