Plasmodium falciparum virulence is linked to its ability to sequester in post-capillary venules in the human host. Plasmodium falciparum erythrocyte membrane protein 1 (PfEMP1) is the main variant surface antigen implicated in this process. Complete loss of parasite adhesion is linked to a large subtelomeric deletion on chromosome 9 in a number of laboratory strains such as D10 and T9-96. Similar to the cytoadherent reference line FCR3, D10 strain expresses PfEMP1 on the surface of parasitized erythrocytes, however without any detectable cytoadhesion. To investigate which of the deleted subtelomeric genes may be implicated in parasite adhesion, we selected 12 genes for D10 complementation studies that are predicted to code for proteins exported to the red blood cell. We identified a novel single copy gene (PF3D7_0936500) restricted to P. falciparum that restores adhesion to CD36, termed here virulence-associated protein 1 (Pfvap1). Protein knockdown and gene knockout experiments confirmed a role of PfVAP1 in the adhesion process in FCR3 parasites. PfVAP1 is co-exported with PfEMP1 into the host cell via vesicle-like structures called Maurer's clefts. This study identifies a novel highly conserved parasite molecule that contributes to parasite virulence possibly by assisting PfEMP1 to establish functional adhesion at the host cell surface.
© 2015 The Authors. Cellular Microbiology published by John Wiley & Sons Ltd.