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Genome Biol. 2007;8(7):R134.

Whole-genome analysis of mRNA decay in Plasmodium falciparum reveals a global lengthening of mRNA half-life during the intra-erythrocytic development cycle.

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  • 1Department of Biochemistry and Biophysics, University of California San Francisco, 1700 4th Street, San Francisco, California 94158-2330, USA.



The rate of mRNA decay is an essential element of post-transcriptional regulation in all organisms. Previously, studies in several organisms found that the specific half-life of each mRNA is precisely related to its physiologic role, and plays an important role in determining levels of gene expression.


We used a genome-wide approach to characterize mRNA decay in Plasmodium falciparum. We found that, globally, rates of mRNA decay increase dramatically during the asexual intra-erythrocytic developmental cycle. During the ring stage of the cycle, the average mRNA half-life was 9.5 min, but this was extended to an average of 65 min during the late schizont stage of development. Thus, a major determinant of mRNA decay rate appears to be linked to the stage of intra-erythrocytic development. Furthermore, we found specific variations in decay patterns superimposed upon the dominant trend of progressive half-life lengthening. These variations in decay pattern were frequently enriched for genes with specific cellular functions or processes.


Elucidation of Plasmodium mRNA decay rates provides a key element for deciphering mechanisms of genetic control in this parasite, by complementing and extending previous mRNA abundance studies. Our results indicate that progressive stage-dependent decreases in mRNA decay rate function are a major determinant of mRNA accumulation during the schizont stage of intra-erythrocytic development. This type of genome-wide change in mRNA decay rate has not been observed in any other organism to date, and indicates that post-transcriptional regulation may be the dominant mechanism of gene regulation in P. falciparum.

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