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J Biol Chem. 2002 Jun 28;277(26):23612-9. Epub 2002 Apr 25.

Processing of an apicoplast leader sequence in Plasmodium falciparum and the identification of a putative leader cleavage enzyme.

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  • 1Plant Cell Biology Research Centre, School of Botany, University of Melbourne, Melboure 3010, Australia.


The plastid (apicoplast) of the malaria-causing parasite Plasmodium falciparum was derived via a secondary endosymbiotic process. As in other secondary endosymbionts, numerous genes for apicoplast proteins are located in the nucleus, and the encoded proteins are targeted to the organelle courtesy of a bipartite N-terminal extension. The first part of this leader sequence is a signal peptide that targets proteins to the secretory pathway. The second, so-called transit peptide region is required to direct proteins from the secretory pathway across the multiple membranes surrounding the apicoplast. In this paper we perform a pulse-chase experiment and N-terminal sequencing to show that the transit peptide of an apicoplast-targeted protein is cleaved, presumably upon import of the protein into the apicoplast. We identify a gene whose product likely performs this cleavage reaction, namely a stromal-processing peptidase (SPP) homologue. In plants SPP cleaves the transit peptides of plastid-targeted proteins. The P. falciparum SPP homologue contains a bipartite N-terminal apicoplast-targeting leader. Interestingly, it shares this leader sequence with a Delta-aminolevulinic acid dehydratase homologue via an alternative splicing event.

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