Mutually Exclusive Transcription of Subtelomeric Gene Families in Plasmodium falciparum is Restricted to var Genes
ABSTRACT: The P. falciparum genome is equipped with several subtelomeric gene families that are implicated in parasite virulence and immune evasion. The members of these gene families are uniformly positioned within heterochromatic domains of the genome and are thus subject to variegated expression. The best-studied example is that of the var gene family encoding the major parasite virulence factor P. falciparum erythrocyte membrane protein 1 (PfEMP1). Transcriptional regulation of other subtelomeric gene families and their role in parasite biology is much less understood. Here, we investigated the mode of transcriptional control of var, rif, stevor, phist and pfmc-2tm families by comparative genome-wide transcriptional profiling of transgenic parasite lines. Our results establish a clear functional distinction between var and non-var transcriptional control mechanisms. Unlike var promoters, we find that promoters of non-var families are not silenced by default. Moreover, we show that mutually exclusive transcription is unique to the var gene family. 3D7 wild-type parasites were transfected with constructs carrying eight different promoters that drive expression of the drug-selectable marker hdhfr-gfp. Thereof seven promoters are members of the multigene families upsA var, upsB var, upsC var, rif, stevor, phistb and pfmc-2tm. The cam promoter was used as transfection-based control and also a wild-type 3D7 cell line was included as control. These nine cell lines were subjected to genome-wide transcriptional profiling. Parasites were synchronized to obtain an 8 hour growth window and were harvested at four consecutive timepoints (TP): TP1 (6-14 hours post-invasion (hpi)); TP2 (14-22 hpi); TP3 (22-30 hpi); TP4 (30-38 hpi) to monitor intra- and inter-family specific linkage of multigene family expression.
Project description:The Plasmodium falciparum genome is equipped with several subtelomeric gene families that are implicated in parasite virulence and immune evasion. Members of these families are uniformly positioned within heterochromatic domains and are thus subject to variegated expression. The best-studied example is that of the var family encoding the major parasite virulence factor P. falciparum erythrocyte membrane protein 1 (PfEMP1). PfEMP1 undergoes antigenic variation through switches in mutually exclusive var gene transcription. var promoters function as crucial regulatory elements in the underlying epigenetic control strategy. Here, we analysed promoters of upsA, upsB and upsC var, rifA1-type rif, stevor, phist and pfmc-2tm genes and investigated their role in endogenous gene transcription by comparative genome-wide expression profiling of transgenic parasite lines. We find that the three major var promoter types are functionally equal and play an essential role in singular gene choice. Unlike var promoters, promoters of non-var families are not silenced by default, and transcription of non-var families is not subject to the same mode of mutually exclusive transcription as has been observed for var genes. Our findings identified a differential logic in the regulation of var and other subtelomeric virulence gene families, which will have important implications for our understanding and future analyses of phenotypic variation in malaria parasites.
Project description:The var multigene family encodes clonally variant surface antigens that are key to immune evasion and pathogenesis in the human malaria parasite, Plasmodium falciparum. Epigenetics and nuclear organization regulate the var gene family in a system of mutually exclusive expression; however, few factors have been shown to play a direct role in these processes. Thus, we adapted a CRISPR-based immunoprecipitation-mass spectrometry approach for identification of novel factors associated with var genes in their natural chromatin context. A tagged, catalytically inactive Cas9 (“dCas9”) was targeted to the promoters or introns of a subset of var genes and subjected to immunoprecipitation followed by label-free LC-MS/MS. A non-targeted dCas9 served as a control.
Project description:The human malaria parasite Plasmodium falciparum uses mutually exclusive expression of the PfEMP1-encoding var gene family to evade the host immune system. Despite progress in the molecular understanding of the default silencing mechanism, the activation mechanism of the uniquely expressed var member remains elusive. A GC-rich noncoding RNA (ncRNA) gene family has coevolved with Plasmodium species that express var genes. Here, we show that this ncRNA family is transcribed in a clonally variant manner, with predominant transcription of a single member occurring when the ncRNA is located adjacent to and upstream of an active var gene. We developed a specific CRISPR interference (CRISPRi) strategy that allowed for the transcriptional repression of all GC-rich members. A lack of GC-rich ncRNA transcription led to the downregulation of the entire var gene family in ring-stage parasites. Strikingly, in mature blood-stage parasites, the GC-rich ncRNA CRISPRi affected the transcription patterns of other clonally variant gene families, including the downregulation of all Pfmc-2TM members. We provide evidence for the key role of GC-rich ncRNA transcription in var gene activation and discovered a molecular link between the transcriptional control of various clonally variant multigene families involved in parasite virulence. This work opens new avenues for elucidating the molecular processes that control immune evasion and pathogenesis in P. falciparum IMPORTANCE Plasmodium falciparum is the deadliest malaria parasite species, accounting for the vast majority of disease cases and deaths. The virulence of this parasite is reliant upon the mutually exclusive expression of cytoadherence proteins encoded by the 60-member var gene family. Antigenic variation of this multigene family serves as an immune evasion mechanism, ultimately leading to chronic infection and pathogenesis. Understanding the regulation mechanism of antigenic variation is key to developing new therapeutic and control strategies. Our study uncovers a novel layer in the epigenetic regulation of transcription of this family of virulence genes by means of a multigene-targeting CRISPR interference approach.
Project description:Many pathogens evade the host immune response or adapt to their environment by expressing surface proteins that undergo rapid switching. In the case of Plasmodium falciparum, products of a multigene family known as var are expressed on the surface of infected red cells, where they undergo clonal antigenic variation and contribute to malaria pathogenesis by mediating adhesion to a variety of host endothelial receptors and to uninfected red blood cells by forming rosettes. Herein we show that a second gene family, rif, which is associated with var at subtelomeric sites in the genome, encodes clonally variant proteins (rifins) that are expressed on the infected red cell surface. Their high copy number, sequence variability, and red cell surface location indicate an important role for rifins in malaria host-parasite interaction.
Project description:Plasmodium falciparum causes most human malaria deaths, having prehistorically evolved from parasites of African Great Apes. Here we explore the genomic basis of P. falciparum adaptation to human hosts by fully sequencing the genome of the closely related chimpanzee parasite species P. reichenowi, and obtaining partial sequence data from a more distantly related chimpanzee parasite (P. gaboni). The close relationship between P. reichenowi and P. falciparum is emphasized by almost complete conservation of genomic synteny, but against this strikingly conserved background we observe major differences at loci involved in erythrocyte invasion. The organization of most virulence-associated multigene families, including the hypervariable var genes, is broadly conserved, but P. falciparum has a smaller subset of rif and stevor genes whose products are expressed on the infected erythrocyte surface. Genome-wide analysis identifies other loci under recent positive selection, but a limited number of changes at the host-parasite interface may have mediated host switching.
Project description:Malaria parasite antigens encoded by multigene families are important factors in virulence and in disease pathology. In Plasmodium falciparum, the virulence factor PfEMP-1 is encoded by the var multigene family and is exposed at the infected erythrocyte surface. PfEMP-1 is clonally variant, allowing the parasite to evade host immunity. The recently identified P. falciparum stevor multigene family and its products also have the potential to be involved in similar important aspects of host-parasite interactions. Here, we show tightly regulated stage-specific transcription of stevor occurring over just a few hours of the asexual parasite life cycle. Only a subset of stevor genes are transcribed in parasite populations maintained in cultures and in single micromanipulated parasites. Antibodies against STEVOR recognize proteins of the expected size (approximately 37 kDa) and localize STEVOR in Maurer's clefts, unique membranous structures located in the cytoplasm of infected erythrocytes. The fact that the timing of stevor expression and the location of STEVOR are clearly distinct from those of other parasite variant antigens suggests that this gene family may have a novel role in P. falciparum biology.
Project description:The evasion of host immune response by the human malaria parasite Plasmodium falciparum has been linked to expression of a range of variable antigens on the infected erythrocyte surface. Several genes are potentially involved in this process with the var, rif and stevor multigene families being the most likely candidates and coding for rapidly evolving proteins. The high sequence diversity of proteins encoded by these gene families may have evolved as an immune evasion strategy that enables the parasite to establish long lasting chronic infections. Previous findings have shown that the hypervariable region (HVR) of STEVOR has significant sequence diversity both within as well as across different P. falciparum lines. However, these studies did not address whether or not there are ancestral stevor that can be found in different parasites.DNA and RNA sequences analysis as well as phylogenetic approaches were used to analyse the stevor sequence repertoire and diversity in laboratory lines and Kilifi (Kenya) fresh isolates.Conserved stevor genes were identified in different P. falciparum isolates from different global locations. Consistent with previous studies, the HVR of the stevor gene family was found to be highly divergent both within and between isolates. Importantly phylogenetic analysis shows some clustering of stevor sequences both within a single parasite clone as well as across different parasite isolates.This indicates that the ancestral P. falciparum parasite genome already contained multiple stevor genes that have subsequently diversified further within the different P. falciparum populations. It also confirms that STEVOR is under strong selection pressure.
Project description: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.
Project description:Avoidance of antibody-mediated immune recognition allows parasites to establish chronic infections and enhances opportunities for transmission. The human malaria parasite Plasmodium falciparum possesses a number of multi-copy gene families, including var, rif, stevor and pfmc-2tm, which encode variant antigens believed to be expressed on the surfaces of infected erythrocytes. However, most studies of these antigens are based on in vitro analyses of culture-adapted isolates, most commonly the laboratory strain 3D7, and thus may not be representative of the unique challenges encountered by P. falciparum in the human host. To investigate the expression of the var, rif-A, rif-B, stevor and pfmc-2tm family genes under conditions that mimic more closely the natural course of infection, ex vivo clinical P. falciparum isolates were analyzed using a novel quantitative real-time PCR approach. Expression patterns in the clinical isolates at various time points during the first intraerythrocytic developmental cycle in vitro were compared to those of strain 3D7. In the clinical isolates, in contrast to strain 3D7, there was a peak of expression of the multi-copy gene families rif-A, stevor and pfmc-2tm at the young ring stage, in addition to the already known expression peak in trophozoites. Furthermore, most of the variant surface antigen families were overexpressed in the clinical isolates relative to 3D7, with the exception of the pfmc-2tm family, expression of which was higher in 3D7 parasites. Immunofluorescence analyses performed in parallel revealed two stage-dependent localization patterns of RIFIN, STEVOR and PfMC-2TM. Proteins were exported into the infected erythrocyte at the young trophozoite stage, whereas they remained inside the parasite membrane during schizont stage and were subsequently observed in different compartments in the merozoite. These results reveal a complex pattern of expression of P. falciparum multi-copy gene families during clinical progression and are suggestive of diverse functional roles of the respective proteins.
Project description:BACKGROUND: The ability of Plasmodium falciparum to undergo antigenic variation, by switching expression among protein variants encoded by multigene families, such as var, rif and stevor, is key to the survival of this parasite in the human host. The RIFIN protein family can be divided into A and B types based on the presence or absence of a 25 amino acid motif in the semi-conserved domain. A particular type B RIFIN, PF13_0006, has previously been shown to be strongly transcribed in the asexual and sexual stages of P. falciparum in vitro. METHODS: Antibodies to recombinant PF13_0006 RIFIN were used in immunofluorescence and confocal imaging of 3D7 parasites throughout the asexual reproduction and sexual development to examine the expression of PF13_0006. Furthermore, reactivity to recombinant PF13_0006 was measured in plasma samples collected from individuals from both East and West African endemic areas. RESULTS: The PF13_0006 RIFIN variant appeared expressed by both released merozoites and gametes after emergence. 7.4% and 12.1% of individuals from East and West African endemic areas, respectively, carry plasma antibodies that recognize recombinant PF13_0006, where the antibody responses were more common among older children. CONCLUSIONS: The stage specificity of PF13_0006 suggests that the diversity of RIFIN variants has evolved to provide multiple specialized functions in different stages of the parasite life cycle. These data also suggest that RIFIN variants antigenically similar to PF13_0006 occur in African parasite populations.