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Curr Opin Microbiol. 2014 Aug;20:88-95. doi: 10.1016/j.mib.2014.05.007. Epub 2014 Jun 17.

Epigenetic memory takes center stage in the survival strategy of malaria parasites.

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Department of Medical Parasitology and Infection Biology, Swiss Tropical and Public Health Institute, Socinstrasse 57, Basel 4051, Switzerland; University of Basel, Petersplatz 1, Basel 4003, Switzerland. Electronic address:
School of Biological Sciences, Nanyang Technological University, Singapore 639798, Singapore.
Department of Molecular Biology, Radboud Institute for Molecular Life Sciences, Radboud University, Nijmegen 6525 GA, The Netherlands.


Malaria parasites run through a complex life cycle in the vertebrate host and mosquito vector. This not only requires tightly controlled mechanisms to govern stage-specific gene expression but also necessitates effective strategies for survival under changing environmental conditions. In recent years, the combination of different -omics approaches and targeted functional studies highlighted that Plasmodium falciparum blood stage parasites use heterochromatin-based gene silencing as a unifying strategy for clonally variant expression of hundreds of genes. In this article, we describe the epigenetic control mechanisms that mediate alternative expression states of genes involved in antigenic variation, nutrient uptake and sexual conversion and discuss the relevance of this strategy for the survival and transmission of malaria parasites.

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