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BMC Genomics. 2005 Mar 7;6:30.

A new Apicomplexa-specific protein kinase family: multiple members in Plasmodium falciparum, all with an export signature.

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  • 1Unité d'Immunologie Moléculaire des Parasites, CNRS URA 2581, Institut Pasteur, Paris, France. Achim_Schneider1@gmx.net



Malaria caused by protozoan parasites of the genus Plasmodium spp. is a major health burden in tropical countries. The development of new control tools, including vaccines and drugs, is urgently needed. The availability of genome sequences from several malaria parasite species provides a basis on which to identify new potential intervention targets. Database mining for orthologs to the Plasmodium falciparum trophozoite protein R45, a vaccine candidate, led us identify a new gene family.


Orthologs to the P. falciparum trophozoite protein R45 were detected exclusively in protozoan parasites of the phylum Apicomplexa, including several Plasmodium spp., Toxoplasma gondii and Cryptosporidium parvum. All family members are hybrid genes with a conserved C-terminal protein kinase domain of a novel type, recently called FIKK kinase, associated with a non conserved N-terminal region without any known functional signature. While a single copy gene was detected in most species, considerable gene expansion was observed in P. falciparum and its closest phylogenic relative P. reichenowi, with 20 and six copies, respectively, each with a distinct N-terminal domain. Based on full length protein sequence, pairs of orthologs were observed in closely related species, such as P. berghei and P.y. yoelii, P. vivax and P. knowlesi, or P. reichenowi and P. falciparum. All 20 P. falciparum paralogs possess a canonical Plasmodium export element downstream of a signal / anchor sequence required for exportation outside the parasitophorous vacuole. This is consistent with the reported association of the trophozoite protein R45, the only paralog characterised to date, with the infected red blood cell membrane. Interestingly, most genes are located in the subtelomeric region of chromosomes, in association with other multigene families contributing to the remodelling of the infected red blood cell membrane, in particular the ring erythrocyte surface antigen multigene family.


This Apicomplexan-specific gene family was called R45-FIKK kinase. The family hallmark is a kinase domain with unusual characteristics, raising the possibility of designing drug or vaccine strategies targeting this domain. The characteristics of the P. falciparum family suggest a role in remodelling the infected cell and as such possibly contribute to the particular virulence of this species.

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