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Proc Natl Acad Sci U S A. 2007 Apr 24;104(17):7015-20. Epub 2007 Apr 10.

Aldolase provides an unusual binding site for thrombospondin-related anonymous protein in the invasion machinery of the malaria parasite.

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  • 1Department of Biochemistry and Structural Genomics of Pathogenic Protozoa (SGPP) Consortium, University of Washington, Seattle, WA 98195, USA.


An actomyosin motor located underneath the plasma membrane drives motility and host-cell invasion of apicomplexan parasites such as Plasmodium falciparum and Plasmodium vivax, the causative agents of malaria. Aldolase connects the motor actin filaments to transmembrane adhesive proteins of the thrombospondin-related anonymous protein (TRAP) family and transduces the motor force across the parasite surface. The TRAP-aldolase interaction is a distinctive and critical trait of host hepatocyte invasion by Plasmodium sporozoites, with a likely similar interaction crucial for erythrocyte invasion by merozoites. Here, we describe 2.4-A and 2.7-A structures of P. falciparum aldolase (PfAldo) obtained from crystals grown in the presence of the C-terminal hexapeptide of TRAP from Plasmodium berghei. The indole ring of the critical penultimate Trp-residue of TRAP fits snugly into a newly formed hydrophobic pocket, which is exclusively delimited by hydrophilic residues: two arginines, one glutamate, and one glutamine. Comparison with the unliganded PfAldo structure shows that the two arginines adopt new side-chain rotamers, whereas a 25-residue subdomain, forming a helix-loop-helix unit, shifts upon binding the TRAP-tail. The structural data are in agreement with decreased TRAP binding after mutagenesis of PfAldo residues in and near the induced TRAP-binding pocket. Remarkably, the TRAP- and actin-binding sites of PfAldo seem to overlap, suggesting that both the plasticity of the aldolase active-site region and the multimeric nature of the enzyme are crucial for its intriguing nonenzymatic function in the invasion machinery of the malaria parasite.

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