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Mol Microbiol. 2011 Aug;81(4):982-93. doi: 10.1111/j.1365-2958.2011.07740.x. Epub 2011 Jul 7.

Genetic ablation of a Maurer's cleft protein prevents assembly of the Plasmodium falciparum virulence complex.

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La Trobe Institute for Molecular Science, Department of Biochemistry and Centre of Excellence for Coherent X-ray Science, La Trobe University, Vic. 3086, Australia.


The malaria parasite Plasmodium falciparum assembles knob structures underneath the erythrocyte membrane that help present the major virulence protein, P. falciparum erythrocyte membrane protein-1 (PfEMP1). Membranous structures called Maurer's clefts are established in the erythrocyte cytoplasm and function as sorting compartments for proteins en route to the RBC membrane, including the knob-associated histidine-rich protein (KAHRP), and PfEMP1. We have generated mutants in which the Maurer's cleft protein, the ring exported protein-1 (REX1) is truncated or deleted. Removal of the C-terminal domain of REX1 compromises Maurer's cleft architecture and PfEMP1-mediated cytoadherance but permits some trafficking of PfEMP1 to the erythrocyte surface. Deletion of the coiled-coil region of REX1 ablates PfEMP1 surface display, trapping PfEMP1 at the Maurer's clefts. Complementation of mutants with REX1 partly restores PfEMP1-mediated binding to the endothelial cell ligand, CD36. Deletion of the coiled-coil region or complete deletion of REX1 is tightly associated with the loss of a subtelomeric region of chromosome 2, encoding KAHRP and other proteins. A KAHRP-green fluorescent protein (GFP) fusion expressed in the REX1-deletion parasites shows defective trafficking. Thus, loss of functional REX1 directly or indirectly ablates the assembly of the P. falciparum virulence complex at the surface of host erythrocytes.

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