Phosphatidylinositol 3-phosphate, an essential lipid in Plasmodium, localizes to the food vacuole membrane and the apicoplast

Eukaryot Cell. 2010 Oct;9(10):1519-30. doi: 10.1128/EC.00124-10. Epub 2010 Aug 13.


Phosphoinositides are important regulators of diverse cellular functions, and phosphatidylinositol 3-monophosphate (PI3P) is a key element in vesicular trafficking processes. During its intraerythrocytic development, the malaria parasite Plasmodium falciparum establishes a sophisticated but poorly characterized protein and lipid trafficking system. Here we established the detailed phosphoinositide profile of P. falciparum-infected erythrocytes and found abundant amounts of PI3P, while phosphatidylinositol 3,5-bisphosphate was not detected. PI3P production was parasite dependent, sensitive to a phosphatidylinositol-3-kinase (PI3-kinase) inhibitor, and predominant in late parasite stages. The Plasmodium genome encodes a class III PI3-kinase of unusual size, containing large insertions and several repetitive sequence motifs. The gene could not be deleted in Plasmodium berghei, and in vitro growth of P. falciparum was sensitive to a PI3-kinase inhibitor, indicating that PI3-kinase is essential in Plasmodium blood stages. For intraparasitic PI3P localization, transgenic P. falciparum that expressed a PI3P-specific fluorescent probe was generated. Fluorescence was associated mainly with the membrane of the food vacuole and with the apicoplast, a four-membrane bounded plastid-like organelle derived from an ancestral secondary endosymbiosis event. Electron microscopy analysis confirmed these findings and revealed, in addition, the presence of PI3P-positive single-membrane vesicles. We hypothesize that these vesicles might be involved in transport processes, likely of proteins and lipids, toward the essential and peculiar parasite compartment, which is the apicoplast. The fact that PI3P metabolism and function in Plasmodium appear to be substantially different from those in its human host could offer new possibilities for antimalarial chemotherapy.

MeSH terms

  • Animals
  • Erythrocytes / parasitology*
  • Fluorescent Dyes
  • Humans
  • Microscopy, Fluorescence
  • Phosphatidylinositol 3-Kinases / genetics
  • Phosphatidylinositol 3-Kinases / metabolism
  • Phosphatidylinositol Phosphates / metabolism*
  • Plasmodium berghei
  • Plasmodium falciparum / enzymology*
  • Plasmodium falciparum / genetics
  • Plasmodium falciparum / metabolism
  • Plasmodium falciparum / physiology
  • Plastids / metabolism*
  • Protozoan Proteins / genetics
  • Protozoan Proteins / metabolism
  • Transfection
  • Vacuoles / metabolism*


  • Fluorescent Dyes
  • Phosphatidylinositol Phosphates
  • Protozoan Proteins
  • phosphatidylinositol 3-phosphate
  • Phosphatidylinositol 3-Kinases