Sympatric Plasmodium falciparum isolates from Venezuela have structured var gene repertoires.
ABSTRACT: BACKGROUND:The human malaria parasite Plasmodium falciparum expresses adhesins belonging to the erythrocyte membrane protein 1 (PfEMP1) family on the surface of the infected host erythrocyte. These antigens elicit a strain-specific antibody response that is associated with protection from disease. During clonal expansion of blood-stage parasites, the surface phenotype of the infected erythrocyte changes because of transcriptional switching among the 40 to 50 members of the highly polymorphic var multi-gene family which encode PfEMP1 variants. Studies to date have compared var repertoires of natural isolates from various geographical locations but have not addressed any within-population structure that may exist among repertoires. METHODS:Distinct parasite genotypes from a single population co-circulating among a defined group of hosts were selected. PCR products encoding the DBL-alpha domain of PfEMP-1 were cloned and sequenced from each of three isolates. Repertoire similarity was statistically evaluated using combinatorial analysis. The chromosomal location of shared sequences was inferred from similarity to dbl-alpha of known location in the 3D7 genome. RESULTS:Sympatric parasites were found to share few var gene sequences, even when alleles at other polymorphic loci were shared. A number of the sequences shared by at least two of the isolates studied were found to be related to 3D7 genomic sequences with non-telomeric chromosomal locations, or atypical domain structures, which may represent globally conserved loci. CONCLUSION:The parasite population studied is structured, with minimal overlap in PfEMP1 repertoires. The var gene family accumulates diversity more rapidly than other antigen genes examined. This may be facilitated by ectopic recombination among the sub-telomeric regions of P. falciparum chromosomes.
Project description:<h4>Background</h4>The var genes of the human malaria parasite Plasmodium falciparum are highly polymorphic loci coding for the erythrocyte membrane proteins 1 (PfEMP1), which are responsible for the cytoaherence of P. falciparum infected red blood cells to the human vasculature. Cytoadhesion, coupled with differential expression of var genes, contributes to virulence and allows the parasite to establish chronic infections by evading detection from the host's immune system. Although studying genetic diversity is a major focus of recent work on the var genes, little is known about the gene family's origin and evolutionary history.<h4>Results</h4>Using a novel hidden Markov model-based approach and var sequences assembled from additional isolates and species, we are able to reveal elements of both the early evolution of the var genes as well as recent diversifying events. We compare sequences of the var gene DBL? domains from divergent isolates of P. falciparum (3D7 and HB3), and a closely-related species, Plasmodium reichenowi. We find that the gene family is equally large in P. reichenowi and P. falciparum -- with a minimum of 51 var genes in the P. reichenowi genome (compared to 61 in 3D7 and a minimum of 48 in HB3). In addition, we are able to define large, continuous blocks of homologous sequence among P. falciparum and P. reichenowi var gene DBL? domains. These results reveal that the contemporary structure of the var gene family was present before the divergence of P. falciparum and P. reichenowi, estimated to be between 2.5 to 6 million years ago. We also reveal that recombination has played an important and traceable role in both the establishment, and the maintenance, of diversity in the sequences.<h4>Conclusions</h4>Despite the remarkable diversity and rapid evolution found in these loci within and among P. falciparum populations, the basic structure of these domains and the gene family is surprisingly old and stable. Revealing a common structure as well as conserved sequence among two species also has implications for developing new primate-parasite models for studying the pathology and immunology of falciparum malaria, and for studying the population genetics of var genes and associated virulence phenotypes.
Project description:Var genes encode a family of virulence factors known as PfEMP1 (Plasmodium falciparum erythrocyte membrane protein 1) which are responsible for both antigenic variation and cytoadherence of infected erythrocytes. Although these molecules play a central role in malaria pathogenesis, the mechanisms generating variant antigen diversification are poorly understood. To investigate var gene evolution, we compared the variant antigen repertoires from three geographically diverse parasite isolates: the 3D7 genome reference isolate; the recently sequenced HB3 isolate; and the IT4/25/5 (IT4) parasite isolate which retains the capacity to cytoadhere in vitro and in vivo.These comparisons revealed that only two var genes (var1csa and var2csa) are conserved in all three isolates and one var gene (Type 3 var) has homologs in IT4 and 3D7. While the remaining 50 plus genes in each isolate are highly divergent most can be classified into the three previously defined major groups (A, B, and C) on the basis of 5' flanking sequence and chromosome location. Repertoire-wide sequence comparisons suggest that the conserved homologs are evolving separately from other var genes and that genes in group A have diverged from other groups.These findings support the existence of a var gene recombination hierarchy that restricts recombination possibilities and has a central role in the functional and immunological adaptation of var genes.
Project description:PfEMP1 are variant parasite antigens that are inserted on the surface of Plasmodium falciparum infected erythrocytes (IE). Through interactions with various host molecules, PfEMP1 mediate IE sequestration in tissues and play a key role in the pathology of severe malaria. PfEMP1 is encoded by a diverse multi-gene family called var. Previous studies have shown that that expression of specific subsets of var genes are associated with low levels of host immunity and severe malaria. However, in most clinical studies to date, full-length var gene sequences were unavailable and various approaches have been used to make comparisons between var gene expression profiles in different parasite isolates using limited information. Several studies have relied on the classification of a 300 - 500 base-pair "DBL? tag" region in the DBL? domain located at the 5' end of most var genes. We assessed the relationship between various DBL? tag classification methods, and sequence features that are only fully assessable through full-length var gene sequences. We compared these different sequence features in full-length var gene from six fully sequenced laboratory isolates. These comparisons show that despite a long history of recombination, DBL? sequence tag classification can provide functional information on important features of full-length var genes. Notably, a specific subset of DBL? tags previously defined as "group A-like" is associated with CIDR?1 domains proposed to bind to endothelial protein C receptor. This analysis helps to bring together different sources of data that have been used to assess var gene expression in clinical parasite isolates.
Project description:Plasmodium falciparum malaria parasites, living in red blood cells, express proteins of the erythrocyte membrane protein-1 (PfEMP1) family on the red blood cell surface. The binding of PfEMP1 molecules to human cell surface receptors mediates the adherence of infected red blood cells to human tissues. The sequences of the 60 PfEMP1 genes in each parasite genome vary greatly from parasite to parasite, yet the variant PfEMP1 proteins maintain receptor binding. Almost all parasites isolated directly from patients bind the human CD36 receptor. Of the several kinds of highly polymorphic cysteine-rich interdomain region (CIDR) domains classified by sequence, only the CIDR1alpha domains bind CD36. Here we describe the CD36-binding portion of a CIDR1alpha domain, MC179, as a bundle of three alpha-helices that are connected by a loop and three additional helices. The MC179 structure, containing seven conserved cysteines and 10 conserved hydrophobic residues, predicts similar structures for the hundreds of CIDR sequences from the many genome sequences now known. Comparison of MC179 with the CIDR domains in the genome of the P. falciparum 3D7 strain provides insights into CIDR domain structure. The CIDR1alpha three-helix bundle exhibits less than 20% sequence identity with the three-helix bundles of Duffy-binding like (DBL) domains, but the two kinds of bundles are almost identical. Despite the enormous diversity of PfEMP1 sequences, the CIDR1alpha and DBL protein structures, taken together, predict that a PfEMP1 molecule is a polymer of three-helix bundles elaborated by a variety of connecting helices and loops. From the structures also comes the insight that DBL1alpha domains are approximately 100 residues larger and that CIDR1alpha domains are approximately 100 residues smaller than sequence alignments predict. This new understanding of PfEMP1 structure will allow the use of better-defined PfEMP1 domains for functional studies, for the design of candidate vaccines, and for understanding the molecular basis of cytoadherence.
Project description:PfEMP1 is a family of adhesive proteins expressed on the surface of Plasmodium falciparum-infected erythrocytes (IEs), where they mediate adhesion of IEs to a range of host receptors. Efficient PfEMP1-dependent IE sequestration often depends on soluble serum proteins, including IgM. Here, we report a comprehensive investigation of which of the about 60 var gene-encoded PfEMP1 variants per parasite genome can bind IgM via the Fc part of the antibody molecule, and which of the constituent domains of those PfEMP1 are involved. We erased the epigenetic memory of var gene expression in three distinct P. falciparum clones, 3D7, HB3, and IT4/FCR3 by promoter titration, and then isolated individual IEs binding IgM from malaria-unexposed individuals by fluorescence-activated single-cell sorting. The var gene transcription profiles of sub-clones measured by real-time qPCR were used to identify potential IgM-binding PfEMP1 variants. Recombinant DBL and CIDR domains corresponding to those variants were tested by ELISA and protein arrays to confirm their IgM-binding capacity. Selected DBL domains were used to raise specific rat anti-sera to select IEs with uniform expression of candidate PfEMP1 proteins. Our data document that IgM-binding PfEMP1 proteins are common in each of the three clones studied, and that the binding epitopes are mainly found in DBLε and DBLζ domains near the C-terminus.
Project description:The var gene encoded hyper-variable Plasmodium falciparum erythrocyte membrane protein 1 (PfEMP1) family mediates cytoadhesion of infected erythrocytes to human endothelium. Antibodies blocking cytoadhesion are important mediators of malaria immunity acquired by endemic populations. The development of a PfEMP1 based vaccine mimicking natural acquired immunity depends on a thorough understanding of the evolved PfEMP1 diversity, balancing antigenic variation against conserved receptor binding affinities. This study redefines and reclassifies the domains of PfEMP1 from seven genomes. Analysis of domains in 399 different PfEMP1 sequences allowed identification of several novel domain classes, and a high degree of PfEMP1 domain compositional order, including conserved domain cassettes not always associated with the established group A-E division of PfEMP1. A novel iterative homology block (HB) detection method was applied, allowing identification of 628 conserved minimal PfEMP1 building blocks, describing on average 83% of a PfEMP1 sequence. Using the HBs, similarities between domain classes were determined, and Duffy binding-like (DBL) domain subclasses were found in many cases to be hybrids of major domain classes. Related to this, a recombination hotspot was uncovered between DBL subdomains S2 and S3. The VarDom server is introduced, from which information on domain classes and homology blocks can be retrieved, and new sequences can be classified. Several conserved sequence elements were found, including: (1) residues conserved in all DBL domains predicted to interact and hold together the three DBL subdomains, (2) potential integrin binding sites in DBL? domains, (3) an acylation motif conserved in group A var genes suggesting N-terminal N-myristoylation, (4) PfEMP1 inter-domain regions proposed to be elastic disordered structures, and (5) several conserved predicted phosphorylation sites. Ideally, this comprehensive categorization of PfEMP1 will provide a platform for future studies on var/PfEMP1 expression and function.
Project description:Malaria in pregnancy is responsible for maternal anaemia, low-birth-weight babies and infant deaths. Plasmodium falciparum infected erythrocytes are thought to cause placental pathology by adhering to host receptors such as chondroitin sulphate A (CSA). CSA binding infected erythrocytes also bind IgM natural antibodies from normal human serum, a process that may facilitate placental adhesion or promote immune evasion. The parasite ligands that mediate placental adhesion are thought to be members of the variant erythrocyte surface antigen family P. falciparum erythrocyte membrane protein 1 (PfEMP1), encoded by the var genes. Two var gene sub-families, var1CSA and var2CSA, have been identified as parasite CSA binding ligands and are leading candidates for a vaccine to prevent pregnancy-associated malaria. We investigated whether these two var gene subfamilies implicated in CSA binding are also the molecules responsible for IgM natural antibody binding. By heterologous expression of domains in COS-7 cells, we found that both var1CSA and var2CSA PfEMP1 variants bound IgM, and in both cases the binding region was a DBL epsilon domain occurring proximal to the membrane. None of the domains from a control non-IgM-binding parasite (R29) bound IgM when expressed in COS-7 cells. These results show that PfEMP1 is a parasite ligand for non-immune IgM and are the first demonstration of a specific adhesive function for PfEMP1 epsilon type domains.
Project description:Existing theory on competition for hosts between pathogen strains has proposed that immune selection can lead to the maintenance of strain structure consisting of discrete, weakly overlapping antigenic repertoires. This prediction of strain theory has conceptual overlap with fundamental ideas in ecology on niche partitioning and limiting similarity between coexisting species in an ecosystem, which oppose the hypothesis of neutral coexistence. For Plasmodium falciparum, strain theory has been specifically proposed in relation to the major surface antigen of the blood stage, known as PfEMP1 and encoded by the multicopy multigene family known as the var genes. Deep sampling of the DBL? domain of var genes in the local population of Bakoumba, West Africa, was completed to define whether patterns of repertoire overlap support a role of immune selection under the opposing force of high outcrossing, a characteristic of areas of intense malaria transmission. Using a 454 high-throughput sequencing protocol, we report extremely high diversity of the DBL? domain and a large parasite population with DBL? repertoires structured into nonrandom patterns of overlap. Such population structure, significant for the high diversity of var genes that compose it at a local level, supports the existence of "strains" characterized by distinct var gene repertoires. Nonneutral, frequency-dependent competition would be at play and could underlie these patterns. With a computational experiment that simulates an intervention similar to mass drug administration, we argue that the observed repertoire structure matters for the antigenic var diversity of the parasite population remaining after intervention.
Project description:The Plasmodium falciparum erythrocyte membrane protein 1 (PfEMP1) antigens play a major role in cytoadhesion of infected erythrocytes (IE), antigenic variation, and immunity to malaria. The current consensus on control of variant surface antigen expression is that only one PfEMP1 encoded by one var gene is expressed per cell at a time. We measured var mRNA transcript levels by real-time Q-PCR, analysed var gene transcripts by single-cell FISH and directly compared these with PfEMP1 antigen surface expression and cytoadhesion in three different antibody-selected P. falciparum 3D7 sub-lines using live confocal microscopy, flow cytometry and in vitro adhesion assays. We found that one selected parasite sub-line simultaneously expressed two different var genes as surface antigens, on single IE. Importantly, and of physiological relevance to adhesion and malaria pathogenesis, this parasite sub-line was found to bind both CD31/PECAM1 and CD54/ICAM1 and to adhere twice as efficiently to human endothelial cells, compared to infected cells having only one PfEMP1 variant on the surface. These new results on PfEMP1 antigen expression indicate that a re-evaluation of the molecular mechanisms involved in P. falciparum adhesion and of the accepted paradigm of absolutely mutually exclusive var gene transcription is required.
Project description:Plasmodium falciparum erythrocyte membrane protein 1 (PfEMP1), encoded by the var gene family, plays a crucial role in disease virulence through its involvement in binding to various host cellular receptors during infection. Growing evidence suggests that differential expression of the various var subgroups may be involved in parasite virulence. To further explore this issue, we have collected isolates from symptomatic patients in south China-Myanmar border, and characterized their sequence diversity and transcription profiles over time of var gene family, and cytoadherence properties from the time of their initial collection and extending through a two month period of adaptation to culture. Initially, we established a highly diverse, DBL? (4 cysteines) subtype-enriched, but unique local repertoire of var-DBL1? sequences by cDNA cloning and sequencing. Next we observed a rapid transcriptional decline of upsA- and upsB-subtype var genes at ring stage through qRT-PCR assays, and a switching event from initial ICAM-I binding to the CD36-binding activity during the first week of adaptive cultivation in vitro. Moreover, predominant transcription of upsA var genes was observed to be correlated with those isolates that showed a higher parasitemia at the time of collection and the ICAM-1-binding phenotype in culture. Taken together, these data indicate that the initial stage of adaptive process in vitro significantly influences the transcription of virulence-related var subtypes and expression of PfEMP1 variants. Further, the specific upregulation of the upsA var genes is likely linked to the rapid propagation of the parasite during natural infection due to the A-type PfEMP1 variant-mediated growth advantages.