Plasmodium falciparum centromeres display a unique epigenetic makeup and cluster prior to and during schizogony

Cell Microbiol. 2012 Sep;14(9):1391-401. doi: 10.1111/j.1462-5822.2012.01803.x. Epub 2012 May 15.


Centromeres are essential for the faithful transmission of chromosomes to the next generation, therefore being essential in all eukaryotic organisms. The centromeres of Plasmodium falciparum, the causative agent of the most severe form of malaria, have been broadly mapped on most chromosomes, but their epigenetic composition remained undefined. Here, we reveal that the centromeric histone variant PfCENH3 occupies a 4-4.5 kb region on each P. falciparum chromosome, which is devoid of pericentric heterochromatin but harbours another histone variant, PfH2A.Z. These CENH3 covered regions pinpoint the exact position of the centromere on all chromosomes and revealed that all centromeric regions have similar size and sequence composition. Immunofluorescence assay of PfCENH3 strongly suggests that P. falciparum centromeres cluster to a single nuclear location prior to and during mitosis and cytokinesis but dissociate soon after invasion. In summary, we reveal a dynamic association of Plasmodium centromeres, which bear a unique epigenetic signature and conform to a strict structure. These findings suggest that DNA-associated and epigenetic elements play an important role in centromere establishment in this important human pathogen.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Centromere / metabolism*
  • Cytokinesis
  • DNA, Protozoan / chemistry
  • DNA, Protozoan / genetics
  • Epigenesis, Genetic*
  • Gene Expression Regulation*
  • Histones / metabolism*
  • Microscopy, Fluorescence
  • Plasmodium falciparum / genetics
  • Plasmodium falciparum / physiology*
  • Protozoan Proteins / metabolism
  • Sequence Analysis, DNA


  • DNA, Protozoan
  • Histones
  • Protozoan Proteins