Link to Pubmed [PMID] – 12100556
Mol. Microbiol. 2002 Jul;45(1):155-67
The Plasmodium falciparum multigene var family codes for approximately 50 variant adhesive proteins expressed in a mutually exclusive manner at the surface of infected red blood cells (iRBCs). Switching expression of var genes can lead to fundamental changes in the adhesive and antigenic properties of iRBCs. For example, a specific phenotypic switch in adhesion from CD36 to chondroitin sulphate A (CSA) is associated with malaria pathogenesis in pregnant women. The factors and DNA elements that control the expression of a particular member of the var gene family during gestational malaria remains enigmatic. Here, we report that the subtelomeric FCR3 varCSA is expressed under the control of a unique DNA element of 1.8 kb, whereas the other members of the var multigene family are flanked by common regulatory elements. The 5′ varCSA-type element is conserved as a single copy in laboratory strains and clinical isolates from Brazil and West Africa and contains two distinct repetitive elements of 150 bp and 60 bp respectively. The 5′ varCSA-type sequence tags a var gene in the 3D7 genome that is homologous to the FCR3 varCSA gene. A recombinant DBL gamma domain of this var gene showed specific binding to CSA. This subtelomeric varCSA gene is transcribed in the opposite sense when compared with the usual orientation of telomere-adjacent var genes. This unique arrangement might explain why the varCSA gene is relatively conserved in genetically distinct parasites despite being located in a highly recombinogenic chromosome compartment. The 5′ untranslated region (UTR) of the varCSA-type sequence is also transcribed in placental isolates that bind to CSA, illustrating an important role for the unique 5′ varCSA-type sequence in the regulation of var genes involved in malaria pathogenesis in pregnant women. However, this promoter is not always found to be transcribing var genes selected for expression of products that bind to CSA in vitro. Our work identifies a sequence tag for the identification of varCSA genes in placental isolates for the first time.