Protein export marks the early phase of gametocytogenesis of the human malaria parasite Plasmodium falciparum

Francesco Silvestrini, Edwin Lasonder, Anna Olivieri, Grazia Camarda, Ben Van Schaijk, Massimo Sanchez, Sumera Younis Younis, Robert Sauerwein, Pietro Alano*

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

200 Citations (Scopus)
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Despite over a century of study of malaria parasites, parts of the Plasmodium falciparum life cycle remain virtually unknown. One of these is the early gametocyte stage, a round shaped cell morphologically similar to an asexual trophozoite in which major cellular transformations ensure subsequent development of the elongated gametocyte. We developed a protocol to obtain for the first time highly purified preparations of early gametocytes using a transgenic line expressing a green fluorescent protein from the onset of gametocytogenesis. We determined the cellular proteome (1427 proteins) of this parasite stage by high accuracy tandem mass spectrometry and newly determined the proteomes of asexual trophozoites and mature gametocytes, identifying altogether 1090 previously undetected parasite proteins. Quantitative label-free comparative proteomics analysis determined enriched protein clusters for the three parasite developmental stages. Gene set enrichment analysis on the 251 proteins enriched in the early gametocyte proteome revealed that proteins putatively exported and involved in erythrocyte remodeling are the most overrepresented protein set in these stages. One-tenth of the early gametocyte-enriched proteome is constituted of putatively exported proteins, here named PfGEXPs (P. falciparum gametocyte-exported proteins). N-terminal processing and N-acetylation at a conserved leucine residue within the Plasmodium export element pentamotif were detected by mass spectrometry for three such proteins in the early but not in the mature gametocyte sample, further supporting a specific role in protein export in early gametocytogenesis. Previous reports and results of our experiments confirm that the three proteins are indeed exported in the erythrocyte cytoplasm. This work indicates that protein export profoundly marks early sexual differentiation in P. falciparum, probably contributing to host cell remodeling in this phase of the life cycle, and that gametocyte-enriched molecules are recruited to modulate this process in gametocytogenesis.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)1437-1448
Number of pages12
JournalMolecular and Cellular Proteomics
Issue number7
Publication statusPublished - 1 Jul 2010
Externally publishedYes


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