A 39-amino-acid C-terminal truncation of GDV1 disrupts sexual commitment in Plasmodium falciparum
journal contributionposted on 26.05.2021, 08:33 by Marta Tibúrcio, Eva Hitz, Igor Niederwieser, Gavin Kelly, Heledd Davies, Christian Doerig, Oliver Billker, Till S Voss, Moritz Treeck
Malaria is a mosquito-borne disease caused by apicomplexan parasites of the genus Plasmodium.Completion of the parasite’s life cycle depends on the transmission of sexual stages, the gametocytes, from an infected human host to the mosquito vector. Sexual commitment occurs in only a small fraction of asexual blood-stage parasites and is initiated by external cues. The gametocyte development protein 1 (GDV1) has been described as a key facilitator to trigger sexual commitment. GDV1 interacts with the silencing factor heterochromatin protein 1 (HP1), leading to its dissociation from heterochromatic DNA at the genomic locus encoding AP2-G, the master transcription factor of gametocytogenesis. How this process is regulated is not known. In this study, we have addressed the role of protein kinases implicated in gametocyte development. From a pool of available protein kinase knockout (KO) lines, we identified two kinase knockout lines which fail to produce gametocytes. However, independent genetic verification revealed that both kinases are not required for gametocytogenesis but that both lines harbor the same mutation that leads to a truncation in the extreme C terminus of GDV1. Introduction of the identified nonsense mutation into the genome of wild-type parasite lines replicates the observed phenotype. Using a GDV1 overexpression line, we show that the truncation in the GDV1 C terminus does not interfere with the nuclear import of GDV1 or its interaction with HP1 in vitro but appears to be important to sustain GDV1 protein levels and thereby sexual commitment. IMPORTANCE Transmission of malaria-causing Plasmodium species by mosquitos requires the parasite to change from a continuously growing asexual parasite form growing in the blood to a sexually differentiated form, the gametocyte. Only a small subset of asexual parasites differentiates into gametocytes that are taken up by the mosquito. Transmission represents a bottleneck in the life cycle of the parasite, so a molecular understanding of the events that lead to stage conversion may identify novel intervention points. Here, we screened a subset of kinases we hypothesized to play a role in this process. While we did not identify kinases required for sexual conversion, we identified a mutation in the C terminus of the gametocyte development 1 protein (GDV1), which abrogates sexual development. The mutation destabilizes the protein but not its interaction with its cognate binding partner HP1. This suggests an important role for the GDV1 C terminus beyond trafficking and protein stability.