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PLoS One. 2011;6(5):e19860. doi: 10.1371/journal.pone.0019860. Epub 2011 May 18.

The Puf-family RNA-binding protein Puf2 controls sporozoite conversion to liver stages in the malaria parasite.

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Max Planck Institute for Infection Biology, Parasitology Unit, Berlin, Germany.


Malaria is a vector-borne infectious disease caused by unicellular, obligate intracellular parasites of the genus Plasmodium. During host switch the malaria parasite employs specialized latent stages that colonize the new host environment. Previous work has established that gametocytes, sexually differentiated stages that are taken up by the mosquito vector, control expression of genes required for mosquito colonization by translational repression. Sexual parasite development is controlled by a DEAD-box RNA helicase of the DDX6 family, termed DOZI. Latency of sporozoites, the transmission stage injected during an infectious blood meal, is controlled by the eIF2alpha kinase IK2, a general inhibitor of protein synthesis. Whether RNA-binding proteins participate in translational regulation in sporozoites remains to be studied. Here, we investigated the roles of two RNA-binding proteins of the Puf-family, Plasmodium Puf1 and Puf2, during sporozoite stage conversion. Our data reveal that, in the rodent malaria parasite P. berghei, Puf2 participates in the regulation of IK2 and inhibits premature sporozoite transformation. Inside mosquito salivary glands puf2⁻ sporozoites transform over time to round forms resembling early intra-hepatic stages. As a result, mutant parasites display strong defects in initiating a malaria infection. In contrast, Puf1 is dispensable in vivo throughout the entire Plasmodium life cycle. Our findings support the notion of a central role for Puf2 in parasite latency during switch between the insect and mammalian hosts.

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