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Eukaryot Cell. 2011 Aug;10(8):1053-61. doi: 10.1128/EC.05049-11. Epub 2011 Jun 17.

Variation among Plasmodium falciparum strains in their reliance on mitochondrial electron transport chain function.

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  • 1Department of Microbiology and Immunology, Drexel University College of Medicine, 2900 Queen Lane, Philadelphia, PA 19129, USA.


Previous studies demonstrated that Plasmodium falciparum strain D10 became highly resistant to the mitochondrial electron transport chain (mtETC) inhibitor atovaquone when the mtETC was decoupled from the pyrimidine biosynthesis pathway by expressing the fumarate-dependent (ubiquinone-independent) yeast dihydroorotate dehydrogenase (yDHODH) in parasites. To investigate the requirement for decoupled mtETC activity in P. falciparum with different genetic backgrounds, we integrated a single copy of the yDHODH gene into the genomes of D10attB, 3D7attB, Dd2attB, and HB3attB strains of the parasite. The yDHODH gene was equally expressed in all of the transgenic lines. All four yDHODH transgenic lines showed strong resistance to atovaquone in standard short-term growth inhibition assays. During longer term growth with atovaquone, D10attB-yDHODH and 3D7attB-yDHODH parasites remained fully resistant, but Dd2attB-yDHODH and HB3attB-yDHODH parasites lost their tolerance to the drug after 3 to 4 days of exposure. No differences were found, however, in growth responses among all of these strains to the Plasmodium-specific DHODH inhibitor DSM1 in either short- or long-term exposures. Thus, DSM1 works well as a selective agent in all parasite lines transfected with the yDHODH gene, whereas atovaquone works for some lines. We found that the ubiquinone analog decylubiquinone substantially reversed the atovaquone inhibition of Dd2attB-yDHODH and HB3attB-yDHODH transgenic parasites during extended growth. Thus, we conclude that there are strain-specific differences in the requirement for mtETC activity among P. falciparum strains, suggesting that, in erythrocytic stages of the parasite, ubiquinone-dependent dehydrogenase activities other than those of DHODH are dispensable in some strains but are essential in others.

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