The Exported Chaperone PfHsp70x Is Dispensable for the Plasmodium falciparum Intraerythrocytic Life Cycle

mSphere. 2017 Sep 27;2(5):e00363-17. doi: 10.1128/mSphere.00363-17. eCollection 2017 Sep-Oct.


Export of parasite proteins into the host erythrocyte is essential for survival of Plasmodium falciparum during its asexual life cycle. While several studies described key factors within the parasite that are involved in protein export, the mechanisms employed to traffic exported proteins within the host cell are currently unknown. Members of the Hsp70 family of chaperones, together with their Hsp40 cochaperones, facilitate protein trafficking in other organisms, and are thus likely used by P. falciparum in the trafficking of its exported proteins. A large group of Hsp40 proteins is encoded by the parasite and exported to the host cell, but only one Hsp70, P. falciparum Hsp70x (PfHsp70x), is exported with them. PfHsp70x is absent in most Plasmodium species and is found only in P. falciparum and closely related species that infect apes. Herein, we have utilized clustered regularly interspaced short palindromic repeat (CRISPR)/Cas9 genome editing in P. falciparum to investigate the essentiality of PfHsp70x. We show that parasitic growth was unaffected by knockdown of PfHsp70x using both the dihydrofolate reductase (DHFR)-based destabilization domain and the glmS ribozyme system. Similarly, a complete gene knockout of PfHsp70x did not affect the ability of P. falciparum to proceed through its intraerythrocytic life cycle. The effect of PfHsp70x knockdown/knockout on the export of proteins to the host red blood cell (RBC), including the critical virulence factor P. falciparum erythrocyte membrane protein 1 (PfEMP1), was tested, and we found that this process was unaffected. These data show that although PfHsp70x is the sole exported Hsp70, it is not essential for the asexual development of P. falciparum. IMPORTANCE Half of the world's population lives at risk for malaria. The intraerythrocytic life cycle of Plasmodium spp. is responsible for clinical manifestations of malaria; therefore, knowledge of the parasite's ability to survive within the erythrocyte is needed to combat the deadliest agent of malaria, P. falciparum. An outstanding question in the field is how P. falciparum undertakes the essential process of trafficking its proteins within the host cell. In most organisms, chaperones such as Hsp70 are employed in protein trafficking. Of the Plasmodium species causing human disease, the chaperone PfHsp70x is unique to P. falciparum, and it is the only parasite protein of its kind exported to the host (S. Külzer et al., Cell Microbiol 14:1784-1795, 2012). This has placed PfHsp70x as an ideal target to inhibit protein trafficking and kill the parasite. However, we show that PfHsp70x is not required for export of parasite effectors and it is not essential for parasite survival inside the RBC.

Keywords: Hsp70; Plasmodium falciparum; malaria; protein export.