Link to Pubmed [PMID] – 29070841
Sci Rep 2017 Oct;7(1):14042
Variegated surface antigen expression is key to chronic infection and pathogenesis of the human malaria parasite Plasmodium falciparum. This protozoan parasite expresses distinct surface molecules that are encoded by clonally variant gene families such as var, rif and stevor. The molecular mechanisms governing activation of individual members remain ill-defined. To investigate the molecular events of the initial transcriptional activation process we focused on a member of the apicomplexan ApiAP2 transcription factor family predicted to bind to the 5′ upstream regions of the var gene family, AP2-exp (PF3D7_1466400). Viable AP2-exp mutant parasites rely on expressing no less than a short truncated protein including the N-terminal AP2 DNA-binding domain. RNA-seq analysis in mutant parasites revealed transcriptional changes in a subset of exported proteins encoded by clonally variant gene families. Upregulation of RIFINs and STEVORs was validated at the protein levels. In addition, morphological alterations were observed on the surface of the host cells infected by the mutants. This work points to a complex regulatory network of clonally variant gene families in which transcription of a subset of members is regulated by the same transcription factor. In addition, we highlight the importance of the non-DNA binding AP2 domain in functional gene regulation.