A major obstacle in analyzing gene function in apicomplexan parasites is the absence of a practical regulatable expression system. Here, we identified functional transcriptional activation domains within Apicomplexan AP2 (ApiAP2) family transcription factors. These ApiAP2 transactivation domains were validated in blood-, liver-, and mosquito-stage parasites and used to create a robust conditional expression system for stage-specific, tetracycline-dependent gene regulation in Toxoplasma gondii, Plasmodium berghei, and Plasmodium falciparum. To demonstrate the utility of this system, we created conditional knockdowns of two essential P. berghei genes: profilin (PRF), a protein implicated in parasite invasion, and N-myristoyltransferase (NMT), which catalyzes protein acylation. Tetracycline-induced repression of PRF and NMT expression resulted in a dramatic reduction in parasite viability. This efficient regulatable system will allow for the functional characterization of essential proteins that are found in these important parasites.
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