Malaria parasites

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These differences in maturation time are likely related to the physiological differences in their respective hosts. The blue arrows separate the time courses between the initial stages of development top with conserved duration and the later stages with variable in time scale. Most metabolic pathways are similar between parasite and its host, but there are key differences in the enzymes involved. Plasmodium possesses most pathways for de novo biosynthesis of important metabolites curiously, several have been lost in the rodent malaria lineage Frech and Chen but heavily relies on salvaging nutrients from host cells.

As the parasite encounters different environments within and between hosts, it must cope with the different physiological environments in the various tissues and hosts. Nutrient sensing thereby links parasite metabolism e. For example, replicating parasites have different requirements for energy metabolism than gametocytes, and the two stages may develop in different environmental niches and host cells.

Proliferative parasites rely on glycolysis to sustain high energy requirements for generating large numbers of progeny. However, Plasmodium parasites are unable to generate glucose or catabolise glycogen and, therefore, they rely on glucose from the host cells.

Genome structure of malaria parasites linked to virulence | News

Within the vertebrate host blood glucose levels are maintained at constant rate and provide the parasite a stable source for glycolysis. In turn parasites produce lactic acid as a byproduct, which can cause lactic acidosis during malaria infection.

General introduction rodent malaria parasites

Interestingly, African Trypanosomes show a similar pattern of energy usage: proliferating slender forms perform glycolysis whilst non-proliferating stumpy forms required for transmission use the TCA Giffin and McCann Of note, some Plasmodium parasites including P. Because of their enrichment in hematopoietic niches, where erythroid cells are predominant, gametocytes can potentially exploit carbon reserves in these cells in addition to utilisation of TCA for energy metabolism.

Lipids are essential in Plasmodium for signaling, protein trafficking, hemoglobin degradation and membrane biosynthesis. Lipid metabolism is an essential process of the parasite, which involves uptake from host cells, transport and synthesis from fatty acids FA. Alternatively they can synthesise them de novo using a type II fatty acid biosynthesis pathway Tarun, Vaughan and Kappe Gametocytes may require less lipids for membrane biosynthesis compared to the proliferative asexual stages.

In Apicomplexa, the alveoli are usually referred to as inner membrane complex IMC. Together with the plasma membrane, alveoli form the so-called pellicle, a structure that is closely associated with cytoskeletal elements. The most conspicuous function of the pellicle is to generate and maintain cell shape, such as funnel shaped Tintinnids in Ciliates, crescent shaped sporozoites in Plasmodium , and the horned appearance of the Ceratium species Dinoflagellates.

Furthermore, the pellicle serves as an anchor and scaffold for various parasite structures. The pellicle also harbours the apical complex that Apicomplexan parasites require for host cell invasion and in some cases egress. Whilst merozoites, sporozoites and ookinetes actively invade or traverse host cells, and sporozoites and ookinetes exhibit gliding motility, active motility or invasion has not been conclusively shown in gametocytes.

In contrast to gametocytes, merozoites, sporozoites and ookinetes possess a polar ring at the apical end that functions as a microtubule organising centre MTOC.


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In these stages, microtubules originate at the polar ring and grow towards the basal end of the cell, whilst at the same time IMC membranes spread over the cell body, finally engulfing it. Additional membrane sacs, originated from the endoplasmic reticulum ER , are deposited at the periphery along one side of the developing gametocyte in a string of beads pattern. Even though gametocytes, as opposed to the motile stages of P. Whether this polarisation has any functional consequences, however, remains unknown. Microtubules are present underneath the membrane sacs, indicating that they nucleate and polymerise at the developing IMC membranes.

Further experiments are needed to test this hypothesis, especially live cell imaging that facilitates a better temporal resolution of cellular processes. Whilst microtubule bundles are concentrated along the nascent IMC plates, they also start extending through the cytoplasm in early stage II gametocytes. Proteinaceous sutures connect the plates that are approximately nm wide.


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  • This leads to rounding up of the gametocyte tips and a relaxation of the IMC membranes, where the sutures are now less pronounced. However, it has recently been shown that microtubules are not the only, or not even the major structural determinant to gametocyte cellular rigidity. Functionally, this high deformability allows mature gametocytes to leave their site of sequestration in the bone marrow or spleen and to enter the circulation to be taken up by a mosquito, as shown in the case of P. Whilst IMC development in gametocytes has been extensively studied in P.

    Based on early electron microscopy studies, it appears that the gametocytes of most Plasmodium species, including avian and reptilian malaria parasites, possess an IMC Aikawa, Huff and Sprinz However, some species, e. Interestingly, in P. As the main function of the IMC in gametocytes seems to be forming and stabilising the shape of the cell, Plasmodium species with round gametocytes might have less requirement for a stable IMC. Further systematic ultrastructural and light microscopy studies of different Plasmodium species will be required to learn more about the IMC and its function s in gametocytes.

    A recent study has investigated Actin-I localisation through gametocyte development in P. It was shown that actin forms filaments that are present underneath the microtubules and can be closely associated with them. These filaments appear very stable as they cannot be depolymerised using the actin polymerisation inhibitor Cytochalasin D.

    Throughout gametocyte development, actin accumulated at the opposing ends of the cell Fig. In contrast to the actin filaments associated with microtubules, these filaments are sensitive to treatment with Cytochalasin D. Another potential function could be the stabilisation of the cell, thus contributing to the high rigidity of developing gametocytes: actin filaments, similar to microtubules are disassembled in stage V gametocytes.

    Interestingly, treatment of P. Protein export and the modification of the host RBC are hallmarks of Plasmodium blood stage infection and conserved across the genus, but they have hitherto been most extensively studied in P. Such a high fraction of exported proteins seems to be an exception amongst Plasmodium species.

    Plasmodium falciparum was found to have largely expanded its repertoire of exported PEXEL proteins compared to other human and rodent malaria species.

    Remarkably, the P. Whilst protein export and host cell modifications are essential for the asexual parasite's survival both in vivo and in vitro , less is known in the sexual stages. A comparative proteome analysis of P. In contrast, components of the asexual knob complex and its major surface antigen PfEMP1 are absent in P. For proteins to reach the host cell and subsequent instalment of host cell modifications, these proteins have to cross the PVM. Furthermore, the PTEX core components are conserved throughout the Plasmodium genus indicating a similar export mechanism for all exported proteins and in all Plasmodium species.

    PTEX, and thus protein export, has been shown to be essential for asexual blood stage development in both P. This coincides with the upregulation of GEXPs during early gametocytogenesis and highlights the importance of protein export in this stage. During further progression of P.

    In fact, the IMC engulfs the entire parasite in stage IV and V gametocytes and could represent a major obstacle for proteins to be trafficked to the parasite plasma membrane PPM and beyond. There are several major changes to the host cell that occur in stage III-V gametocytes, which could be caused by the activation of previously exported effector proteins or by de novo export. One of these changes is the deformability switch that occurs during the transition from stage IV to stage V gametocytes.

    In asexual P. Especially, proteins that contain one or more transmembrane domains are temporarily localised to the Maurer's clefts before being further trafficked to the RBC surface e. A similar mechanism could exist in gametocytes with effectors being stored at or in the Maurer's clefts and then further trafficked to the site of action when required. Maurer's clefts, originally believed to be injuries to the host cell caused by the attachment of parasites Mundwiler-Pachlatko and Beck , are generated within hours after invasion of a RBC by P.

    These tethers have so far only been described in P. The function of Maurer's clefts tethering is unknown, but it could potentially contribute to its function as a trafficking hub.

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    However, the presence of REX1 indicates that the maintenance of Maurer's clefts architecture throughout gametocytogenesis might be important for transmission. Maurer's clefts or similar structures seem to exist throughout the Plasmodium genus, suggesting a conserved function Aikawa, Miller and Rabbege Most research into protein export and host cell modifications has been focused on asexual P. The knowledge about iRBC surface antigens in gametocytes will be of great interest for the development of transmission blocking vaccines. Furthermore, understanding the mechanisms of protein export and antigen display during gametocyte development will expand our knowledge about parasite biology and could explain some of the differences between Plasmodium species.

    Mature gametocytes were first discovered by Alphonse Laveran in the blood of an Algerian soldier more than years ago Laveran , yet their biology remains elusive to this day. Recent efforts in malaria elimination and eradication have resulted in renewed interest in basic and translational aspects of malaria transmission. In the past 5 years a series of technical breakthroughs in the malaria field have made the study of parasites and in particular of gametocytes more tractable— i forward genetic screens in P. These and other emerging tools will enable comparative transcriptomic, proteomic and metabolomic analyses of various parasite species and stages in vitro and in vivo.

    At the same time the continuous development in imaging technologies, including super resolution and high content imaging approaches, provide the corresponding phenotypic data at increasing resolution in time and space.

    We anticipate that the systematic application of these tools to the study of gametocytogenesis will unravel some of the major questions in the field as follows: i how are external signals such as LysoPC translated in the cell to regulate sexual commitment? Closing these knowledge gaps may translate into novel opportunities to block the transmission cycle of this deadly human parasite. Oxford University Press is a department of the University of Oxford.

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    Epigenetic variation in malaria parasites

    Advanced Search. Article Navigation. Close mobile search navigation Article Navigation. Volume Article Contents. Revisiting gametocyte biology in malaria parasites Priscilla Ngotho. Oxford Academic. Google Scholar. Alexandra Blancke Soares. Franziska Hentzschel. Fiona Achcar.

    Life in the Lab: Working with malaria parasites

    Lucia Bertuccini. Matthias Marti. Marti glasgow. Co first authors. Cite Citation. Permissions Icon Permissions. Plasmodium falciparum , gametocyte , malaria , transmission. Open in new tab Download slide.