Revisiting the initial steps of sexual development in the malaria parasite Plasmodium falciparum.

TitleRevisiting the initial steps of sexual development in the malaria parasite Plasmodium falciparum.
Publication TypeJournal Article
Year of Publication2019
AuthorsBancells C, Llorà-Batlle O, Poran A, Nötzel C, Rovira-Graells N, Elemento O, Kafsack BFC, Cortés A
JournalNat Microbiol
Date Published2019 01
KeywordsBase Sequence, Erythrocytes, Humans, Life Cycle Stages, Malaria, Falciparum, Plasmodium falciparum, Schizonts, Sequence Analysis, RNA, Sexual Development

Human to vector transmission of malaria requires that some blood-stage parasites abandon asexual growth and convert into non-replicating sexual forms called gametocytes. The initial steps of gametocytogenesis remain largely uncharacterized. Here, we study this part of the malaria life cycle in Plasmodium falciparum using PfAP2-G, the master regulator of sexual conversion, as a marker of commitment. We demonstrate the existence of PfAP2-G-positive sexually committed parasite stages that precede the previously known committed schizont stage. We also found that sexual conversion can occur by two different routes: the previously described route in which PfAP2-G-expressing parasites complete a replicative cycle as committed forms before converting into gametocytes upon re-invasion, or a direct route with conversion within the same cycle as initial PfAP2-G expression. The latter route is linked to early PfAP2-G expression in ring stages. Reanalysis of published single-cell RNA-sequencing (RNA-seq) data confirmed the presence of both routes. Consistent with these results, using plaque assays we observed that, in contrast to the prevailing model, many schizonts produced mixed plaques containing both asexual parasites and gametocytes. Altogether, our results reveal unexpected features of the initial steps of sexual development and extend the current view of this part of the malaria life cycle.

Alternate JournalNat Microbiol
PubMed ID30478286
PubMed Central IDPMC6294672
Grant List / / Wellcome Trust / United Kingdom
R01 CA194547 / CA / NCI NIH HHS / United States