Nuclear repositioning precedes promoter accessibility and is linked to the switching frequency of a Plasmodium falciparum invasion gene

Cell Host Microbe. 2012 Dec 13;12(6):739-50. doi: 10.1016/j.chom.2012.11.004.


Variation of surface adhesins, such as the Plasmodium falciparum erythrocyte invasion ligand PfRh4, is critical for virulence and immune evasion in many microbes. While phenotypic switching is linked to transcriptional changes and chromatin function, the determinants of switching frequency remain poorly defined. By expressing a prokaryotic DNA methylase in P. falciparum, we directly assayed accessibility of transcriptionally active and silent chromatin at the PfRh4 locus. Parasites selected for in vivo PfRh4 activation show a reversible increase in promoter accessibility and exhibit perinuclear repositioning of the locus from a silent to a conserved activation domain. Forced activation of a proximal gene results in a similar repositioning of the PfRh4 locus, with a concomitant increase in PfRh4 activation in a subpopulation of parasites and promoter accessibility correlating with actively transcribed loci. Thus, nuclear repositioning is associated with increased P. falciparum switching frequency, while promoter accessibility is tightly linked to clonally active PfRh4 promoters.

Publication types

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

MeSH terms

  • Antigenic Variation
  • Cell Nucleus / metabolism
  • Chromatin / metabolism
  • Membrane Proteins / genetics*
  • Plasmodium falciparum / genetics
  • Plasmodium falciparum / pathogenicity*
  • Promoter Regions, Genetic*
  • Protozoan Proteins / genetics*
  • Transcription, Genetic*
  • Virulence Factors / genetics*


  • Chromatin
  • Membrane Proteins
  • Protozoan Proteins
  • RH4 protein, Plasmodium falciparum
  • Virulence Factors