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PLoS One. 2013 Jun 25;8(6):e67047. doi: 10.1371/journal.pone.0067047. Print 2013.

Plasmodium falciparum erythrocytic stage parasites require the putative autophagy protein PfAtg7 for normal growth.

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Department of Microbial Infection and Immunity, The Ohio State University Wexner Medical Center, Columbus, Ohio, United States of America.


Analysis of the Plasmodium falciparum genome reveals a limited number of putative autophagy genes, specifically the four genes involved in ATG8 lipidation, an essential step in formation of autophagosomes. In yeast, Atg8 lipidation requires the E1-type ligase Atg7, an E2-type ligase Atg3, and a cysteine protease Atg4. These four putative P. falciparum ATG (PfATG) genes are transcribed during the parasite's erythrocytic stages. PfAtg7 has relatively low identity and similarity to yeast Atg7 (14.7% and 32.2%, respectively), due primarily to long insertions typical of P. falciparum. Excluding the insertions the identity and similarity are higher (38.0% and 70.8%, respectively). This and the fact that key residues are conserved, including the catalytic cysteine and ATP binding domain, we hypothesize that PfAtg7 is the activating enzyme of PfAtg8. To assess the role of PfAtg7 we have generated two transgenic parasite lines. In one, the PfATG7 locus was modified to introduce a C-terminal hemagglutinin tag. Western blotting reveals two distinct protein species, one migrating near the predicted 150 kDa and one at approximately 65 kDa. The second transgenic line introduces an inducible degradation domain into the PfATG7 locus, allowing us to rapidly attenuate PfAtg7 protein levels. Corresponding species are also observed in this parasite line at approximately 200 kDa and 100 kDa. Upon PfATG7 attenuation parasites exhibit a slow growth phenotype indicating the essentiality of this putative enzyme for normal growth.

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