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Proc Natl Acad Sci U S A. 2008 Apr 29;105(17):6398-402. doi: 10.1073/pnas.0802384105. Epub 2008 Apr 23.

Critical role of a K+ channel in Plasmodium berghei transmission revealed by targeted gene disruption.

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Department of Cellular and Molecular Medicine, Faculty of Health Sciences, University of Copenhagen, DK-2200 Copenhagen, Denmark.


Regulated K(+) transport across the plasma membrane is of vital importance for the survival of most cells. Two K(+) channels have been identified in the Plasmodium falciparum genome; however, their functional significance during parasite life cycle in the vertebrate host and during transmission through the mosquito vector remains unknown. We hypothesize that these two K(+) channels mediate the transport of K(+) in the parasites, and thus are important for parasite survival. To test this hypothesis, we identified the orthologue of one of the P. falciparum K(+) channels, PfKch1, in the rodent malaria parasite P. berghei (PbKch1) and examined the biological role by performing a targeted disruption of the gene encoding PbKch1. The deduced amino acid sequence of the six transmembrane domains of PfKch1 and PbKch1 share 82% identity, and in particular the pore regions are completely identical. The PbKch1-null parasites were viable despite a marked reduction in the uptake of the K(+) congener (86)Rb(+), and mice infected with PbKch1-null parasites survived slightly longer than mice infected with WT parasites. However, the most striking feature of the phenotype was the virtually complete inhibition of the development of PbKch1-null parasites in Anopheles stephensi mosquitoes. In conclusion, these studies demonstrate that PbKch1 contributes to the transport of K(+) in P. berghei parasites and supports the growth of the parasites, in particular the development of oocysts in the mosquito midgut. K(+) channels therefore may constitute a potential antimalarial drug target.

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