Centrins, cell cycle regulation proteins in human malaria parasite Plasmodium falciparum

Document Type

Journal Article

Publication Date



Journal of Biological Chemistry








Molecules and cellular mechanisms that regulate the process of cell division in malaria parasites remain poorly understood. In this study we isolate and characterize the four Plasmodium falciparum centrins (PfCENs) and, by growth complementation studies, provide evidence for their involvement in cell division. Centrins are cytoskeleton proteins with key roles in cell division, including centrosome duplication, and possess four Ca2+-binding EF hand domains. By means of phylogenetic analysis, we were able to decipher the evolutionary history of centrins in eukaryotes with particular emphasis on the situation in apicomplexans and other alveolates. Plasmodium possesses orthologs of four distinct centrin paralogs traceable to the ancestral alveolate, including two that are unique to alveolates. By real time PCR and/or immunofluorescence, we determined the expression of PfCEN mRNA or protein in sporozoites, asexual blood forms, gametocytes, and in the oocysts developing inside mosquito mid-gut. Immunoelectron microscopy studies showed that centrin is expressed in close proximity with the nucleus of sporozoites and asexual schizonts. Furthermore, confocal and widefield microscopy using the double staining with α-tubulin and centrin antibodies strongly suggested that centrin is associated with the parasite centrosome. Following the episomal expression of the four PfCENs in a centrin knock-out Leishmania donovani parasite line that exhibited a severe growth defect, one of the PfCENs was able to partially restore Leishmania growth rate and overcome the defect in cytokinesis in such mutant cell line. To our knowledge, this study is the first characterization of a Plasmodium molecule that is involved in the process of cell division. These results provide the opportunity to further explore the role of centrins in cell division in malaria parasites and suggest novel targets to construct genetically modified, live attenuated malaria vaccines.