The N-terminal extension of the P. falciparum GBP130 signal peptide is irrelevant for signal sequence function

Int J Med Microbiol. 2018 Jan;308(1):3-12. doi: 10.1016/j.ijmm.2017.07.003. Epub 2017 Jul 17.


The malaria parasite P. falciparum exports a large number of proteins to its host cell, the mature human erythrocyte. Although the function of the majority of these proteins is not well understood, many exported proteins appear to play a role in modification of the erythrocyte following invasion. Protein export to the erythrocyte is a secretory process that begins with entry to the endoplasmic reticulum. For most exported proteins, this step is mediated by hydrophobic signal peptides found towards the N-terminal end of proteins. The signal peptides present on P. falciparum exported proteins often differ in length from those found in other systems, and generally contain a highly extended N-terminal region. Here we have investigated the function of these extended N-terminal regions, using the exported parasite protein GBP130 as a model. Surprisingly, several deletions of the extended N-terminal regions of the GBP130 signal peptide have no effect on the ability of the signal peptide to direct a fluorescent reporter to the secretory pathway. Addition of the same N-terminal extension to a canonical signal peptide does not affect transport of either soluble or membrane proteins to their correct respective subcellular localisations. Finally, we show that extended signal peptides are able to complement canonical signal peptides in driving protein traffic to the apicoplast of the parasite, and are also functional in a mammalian cell system. Our study is the first detailed analysis of an extended P. falciparum signal peptide and suggests that N-terminal extensions of exported Plasmodium falciparum proteins are not required for entry to the secretory system, and are likely to be involved in other, so far unknown, processes.

Keywords: Malaria; PEXEL; Plasmodium; Protein export; Secretion; Signal peptide.

MeSH terms

  • Apicoplasts / metabolism
  • Erythrocytes / metabolism
  • Erythrocytes / parasitology
  • HEK293 Cells
  • Humans
  • Membrane Proteins / metabolism
  • Mutation
  • Plasmodium falciparum / metabolism*
  • Protein Sorting Signals / genetics
  • Protein Sorting Signals / physiology*
  • Protein Transport
  • Protozoan Proteins / chemistry
  • Protozoan Proteins / metabolism*
  • Secretory Pathway
  • Solubility


  • Membrane Proteins
  • Protein Sorting Signals
  • Protozoan Proteins