In Vivo Function of PTEX88 in Malaria Parasite Sequestration and Virulence

Eukaryot Cell. 2015 Jun;14(6):528-34. doi: 10.1128/EC.00276-14. Epub 2015 Mar 27.


Malaria pathology is linked to remodeling of red blood cells by eukaryotic Plasmodium parasites. Central to host cell refurbishment is the trafficking of parasite-encoded virulence factors through the Plasmodium translocon of exported proteins (PTEX). Much of our understanding of its function is based on experimental work with cultured Plasmodium falciparum, yet direct consequences of PTEX impairment during an infection remain poorly defined. Using the murine malaria model parasite Plasmodium berghei, it is shown here that efficient sequestration to the pulmonary, adipose, and brain tissue vasculature is dependent on the PTEX components thioredoxin 2 (TRX2) and PTEX88. While TRX2-deficient parasites remain virulent, PTEX88-deficient parasites no longer sequester in the brain, correlating with abolishment of cerebral complications in infected mice. However, an apparent trade-off for virulence attenuation was spleen enlargement, which correlates with a strongly reduced schizont-to-ring-stage transition. Strikingly, general protein export is unaffected in PTEX88-deficient mutants that mature normally in vitro. Thus, PTEX88 is pivotal for tissue sequestration in vivo, parasite virulence, and preventing exacerbation of spleen pathology, but these functions do not correlate with general protein export to the host erythrocyte. The presented data suggest that the protein export machinery of Plasmodium parasites and their underlying mechanistic features are considerably more complex than previously anticipated and indicate challenges for targeted intervention strategies.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Animals
  • Brain / parasitology
  • Mice
  • Plasmodium berghei / growth & development
  • Plasmodium berghei / pathogenicity*
  • Protein Transport
  • Protozoan Proteins / genetics
  • Protozoan Proteins / metabolism*
  • Spleen / parasitology
  • Thioredoxins / genetics
  • Thioredoxins / metabolism*


  • Protozoan Proteins
  • Thioredoxins