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Mol Biochem Parasitol. 2004 Jul;136(1):35-42.

Widespread distribution of antisense transcripts in the Plasmodium falciparum genome.

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  • 1Department of Immunology and Infectious Diseases, Harvard School of Public Health, Harvard University, 665 Huntington Avenue, Boston, MA 02115, USA.


The availability of the complete genome sequence of Plasmodium falciparum has facilitated high-throughput profiling of its complex life cycle, following the application of micro-array, proteomic, and serial analysis of gene expression (SAGE) technologies in this system. These, in turn, have yielded unprecedented insight into global gene expression, including the foremost demonstration of antisense transcription in the parasite. For example, owing to its inherent ability to sample novel ORFs and to predict transcript orientation, SAGE analysis in asexual forms led to the initial discovery of highly abundant antisense RNAs. To determine the extent of this phenomenon in P. falciparum, we have surveyed the distribution of both sense and antisense transcripts across the asexual transcriptome for the first time. To this end, a relational database integrating SAGE expression data with genome annotation information was constructed. This allowed the comprehensive annotation of a total of 17245 SAGE tags, extending over a 350-fold expression range. Transcripts from approximately 30% of the estimated 3D7 gene loci were present at detectable levels in mixed asexual stages, where loci involved in invasion and immune evasion; and carbohydrate metabolism were highly represented in the sense transcriptome. Approximately 12% of SAGE tags, however, were derived from the non-coding strand of nuclear-encoded ORFs, indicating that endogenous antisense RNAs are widespread in this system. Notably, these antisense transcripts were absent from the mitochondrial genome. Interestingly, we note that sense and antisense tag counts from single loci across the transcriptome were inversely related. Taken together, this data may provide first hints as to the possible function of antisense transcription in this system.

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