A Plant-Like Kinase in Plasmodium falciparum Regulates Parasite Egress from Erythrocytes

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Science  14 May 2010:
Vol. 328, Issue 5980, pp. 910-912
DOI: 10.1126/science.1188191

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It's a Knockout

The malaria parasite is one of the most important pathogens of humans. Increasing drug-resistance is an imminent public health disaster, and we urgently need to find new drugs. The recently acquired malarial genomes provide a plethora of targets. However, due to the genetic intractability of the parasite, it has been difficult to identify essential genes in the clinically relevant blood-stage of the parasite. Dvorin et al. (p. 910) investigated the function of a Plasmodium falciparum plant-like calcium-dependent protein kinase, PfCDPK5, which is expressed in the invasive blood-stage forms of the parasite. A system for conditional protein expression allowed the production of a functional knockout in the bloodstream stage of the parasite. PfCDPK5 was required for parasite egress from the human host erythrocyte, an essential step in the parasite life cycle.


Clinical malaria is associated with the proliferation of Plasmodium parasites in human erythrocytes. The coordinated processes of parasite egress from and invasion into erythrocytes are rapid and tightly regulated. We have found that the plant-like calcium-dependent protein kinase PfCDPK5, which is expressed in invasive merozoite forms of Plasmodium falciparum, was critical for egress. Parasites deficient in PfCDPK5 arrested as mature schizonts with intact membranes, despite normal maturation of egress proteases and invasion ligands. Merozoites physically released from stalled schizonts were capable of invading new erythrocytes, separating the pathways of egress and invasion. The arrest was downstream of cyclic guanosine monophosphate–dependent protein kinase (PfPKG) function and independent of protease processing. Thus, PfCDPK5 plays an essential role during the blood stage of malaria replication.

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