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PLoS Pathog. 2006 Oct;2(10):e113.

Two Plasmodium rhomboid proteases preferentially cleave different adhesins implicated in all invasive stages of malaria.

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Department of Molecular Biology and Genetics, Johns Hopkins University School of Medicine, Baltimore, Maryland, United States of America.


Invasion of host cells by the malaria pathogen Plasmodium relies on parasite transmembrane adhesins that engage host-cell receptors. Adhesins must be released by cleavage before the parasite can enter the cell, but the processing enzymes have remained elusive. Recent work indicates that the Toxoplasma rhomboid intramembrane protease TgROM5 catalyzes this essential cleavage. However, Plasmodium does not encode a direct TgROM5 homolog. We examined processing of the 14 Plasmodium falciparum adhesins currently thought to be involved in invasion by both model and Plasmodium rhomboid proteases in a heterologous assay. While most adhesins contain aromatic transmembrane residues and could not be cleaved by nonparasite rhomboid proteins, including Drosophila Rhomboid-1, Plasmodium falciparum rhomboid protein (PfROM)4 (PFE0340c) was able to process these adhesins efficiently and displayed novel substrate specificity. Conversely, PfROM1 (PF11_0150) shared specificity with rhomboid proteases from other organisms and was the only PfROM able to cleave apical membrane antigen 1 (AMA1). PfROM 1 and/or 4 was thus able to cleave diverse adhesins including TRAP, CTRP, MTRAP, PFF0800c, EBA-175, BAEBL, JESEBL, MAEBL, AMA1, Rh1, Rh2a, Rh2b, and Rh4, but not PTRAMP, and cleavage relied on the adhesin transmembrane domains. Swapping transmembrane regions between BAEBL and AMA1 switched the relative preferences of PfROMs 1 and 4 for these two substrates. Our analysis indicates that PfROMs 1 and 4 function with different substrate specificities that together constitute the specificity of TgROM5 to cleave diverse adhesins. This is the first enzymatic analysis of Plasmodium rhomboid proteases and suggests an involvement of PfROMs in all invasive stages of the malaria lifecycle, in both the vertebrate host and the mosquito vector.

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