The transcriptome of the intraerythrocytic developmental cycle of Plasmodium falciparum

PLoS Biol. 2003 Oct;1(1):E5. doi: 10.1371/journal.pbio.0000005. Epub 2003 Aug 18.


Plasmodium falciparum is the causative agent of the most burdensome form of human malaria, affecting 200-300 million individuals per year worldwide. The recently sequenced genome of P. falciparum revealed over 5,400 genes, of which 60% encode proteins of unknown function. Insights into the biochemical function and regulation of these genes will provide the foundation for future drug and vaccine development efforts toward eradication of this disease. By analyzing the complete asexual intraerythrocytic developmental cycle (IDC) transcriptome of the HB3 strain of P. falciparum, we demonstrate that at least 60% of the genome is transcriptionally active during this stage. Our data demonstrate that this parasite has evolved an extremely specialized mode of transcriptional regulation that produces a continuous cascade of gene expression, beginning with genes corresponding to general cellular processes, such as protein synthesis, and ending with Plasmodium-specific functionalities, such as genes involved in erythrocyte invasion. The data reveal that genes contiguous along the chromosomes are rarely coregulated, while transcription from the plastid genome is highly coregulated and likely polycistronic. Comparative genomic hybridization between HB3 and the reference genome strain (3D7) was used to distinguish between genes not expressed during the IDC and genes not detected because of possible sequence variations. Genomic differences between these strains were found almost exclusively in the highly antigenic subtelomeric regions of chromosomes. The simple cascade of gene regulation that directs the asexual development of P. falciparum is unprecedented in eukaryotic biology. The transcriptome of the IDC resembles a "just-in-time" manufacturing process whereby induction of any given gene occurs once per cycle and only at a time when it is required. These data provide to our knowledge the first comprehensive view of the timing of transcription throughout the intraerythrocytic development of P. falciparum and provide a resource for the identification of new chemotherapeutic and vaccine candidates.

Publication types

  • Research Support, N.I.H., Extramural
  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't
  • Research Support, U.S. Gov't, P.H.S.

MeSH terms

  • Animals
  • Antimalarials / pharmacology
  • Chromosome Mapping
  • Chromosomes / ultrastructure
  • Erythrocytes / parasitology*
  • Gene Expression Regulation
  • Gene Expression Regulation, Developmental*
  • Genes, Protozoan
  • Genome
  • Genome, Protozoan
  • Humans
  • Nucleic Acid Hybridization
  • Oligonucleotide Array Sequence Analysis
  • Oligonucleotides / chemistry
  • Open Reading Frames
  • Plasmodium falciparum / metabolism*
  • Plastids
  • Protozoan Proteins
  • RNA, Messenger / metabolism
  • Time Factors
  • Transcription, Genetic*


  • Antimalarials
  • Oligonucleotides
  • Protozoan Proteins
  • RNA, Messenger