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BMC Genomics. 2017 Jul 19;18(1):543. doi: 10.1186/s12864-017-3905-1.

Novel Plasmodium falciparum metabolic network reconstruction identifies shifts associated with clinical antimalarial resistance.

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Department of Microbiology, Immunology, and Cancer Biology, University of Virginia, School of Medicine, Charlottesville, USA.
Department of Biomedical Engineering, University of Virginia, Charlottesville, USA.
Department of Biology, University of Virginia, Charlottesville, USA.
Division of Infectious Diseases and International Health, University of Virginia, School of Medicine, Charlottesville, USA.



Malaria remains a major public health burden and resistance has emerged to every antimalarial on the market, including the frontline drug, artemisinin. Our limited understanding of Plasmodium biology hinders the elucidation of resistance mechanisms. In this regard, systems biology approaches can facilitate the integration of existing experimental knowledge and further understanding of these mechanisms.


Here, we developed a novel genome-scale metabolic network reconstruction, iPfal17, of the asexual blood-stage P. falciparum parasite to expand our understanding of metabolic changes that support resistance. We identified 11 metabolic tasks to evaluate iPfal17 performance. Flux balance analysis and simulation of gene knockouts and enzyme inhibition predict candidate drug targets unique to resistant parasites. Moreover, integration of clinical parasite transcriptomes into the iPfal17 reconstruction reveals patterns associated with antimalarial resistance. These results predict that artemisinin sensitive and resistant parasites differentially utilize scavenging and biosynthetic pathways for multiple essential metabolites, including folate and polyamines. Our findings are consistent with experimental literature, while generating novel hypotheses about artemisinin resistance and parasite biology. We detect evidence that resistant parasites maintain greater metabolic flexibility, perhaps representing an incomplete transition to the metabolic state most appropriate for nutrient-rich blood.


Using this systems biology approach, we identify metabolic shifts that arise with or in support of the resistant phenotype. This perspective allows us to more productively analyze and interpret clinical expression data for the identification of candidate drug targets for the treatment of resistant parasites.


Artemisinin resistance; Flux balance analysis; Malaria; Metabolism; Network reconstruction; Plasmodium falciparum

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