An exported kinase (FIKK4.2) that mediates virulence-associated changes in Plasmodium falciparum-infected red blood cells

Lev M Kats, Kate Marie Fernandez, Fiona K Glenister, Susann Herrmann, Donna W Buckingham, Ghizal Siddiqui, Laveena Sharma, Rebecca S Bamert, Isabelle S Lucet, Micheline Guillotte, Odile Mercereau-Puijalon, Brian M Cooke

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Alteration of the adhesive and mechanical properties of red blood cells caused by infection with the malaria parasite Plasmodium falciparum underpin both its survival and extreme pathogenicity. A unique family of parasite putative exported kinases, collectively called FIKK (Phenylalanine (F) - Isoleucine (I) - Lysine (K) - Lysine (K)), has recently been implicated in these pathophysiological processes, however, their precise function in P. falciparum-infected red blood cells or their likely role in malaria pathogenesis remain unknown. Here, for the first time, we demonstrate that one member of the FIKK family, FIKK4.2, can function as an active kinase and is localised in a novel and distinct compartment of the parasite-infected red blood cell which we have called K-dots. Notably, targeted disruption of the gene encoding FIKK4.2 (fikk4.2) dramatically alters the parasite s ability to modify and remodel the red blood cells in which it multiplies. Specifically, red blood cells infected with fikk4.2 knockout parasites were significantly less rigid and less adhesive when compared with red blood cells infected with normal parasites from which the transgenic clones had been derived, despite expressing similar levels of the major cytoadhesion ligand, PfEMP1, on the red blood cell surface. Notably, these changes were accompanied by dramatically altered knob-structures on infected red blood cells that play a key role in cytoadhesion which is responsible for much of the pathogenesis associated with falciparum malaria. Taken together, our data identifies FIKK4.2 as an important kinase in the pathogenesis of P. falciparum malaria and strengthens the attractiveness of FIKK kinases as targets for the development of novel next-generation anti-malaria drugs.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)319 - 328
Number of pages10
JournalInternational Journal for Parasitology
Issue number5
Publication statusPublished - 2014

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