Single-cell RNA-seq reveals hidden transcriptional variation in malaria parasites

Elife. 2018 Mar 27:7:e33105. doi: 10.7554/eLife.33105.


Single-cell RNA-sequencing is revolutionising our understanding of seemingly homogeneous cell populations but has not yet been widely applied to single-celled organisms. Transcriptional variation in unicellular malaria parasites from the Plasmodium genus is associated with critical phenotypes including red blood cell invasion and immune evasion, yet transcriptional variation at an individual parasite level has not been examined in depth. Here, we describe the adaptation of a single-cell RNA-sequencing (scRNA-seq) protocol to deconvolute transcriptional variation for more than 500 individual parasites of both rodent and human malaria comprising asexual and sexual life-cycle stages. We uncover previously hidden discrete transcriptional signatures during the pathogenic part of the life cycle, suggesting that expression over development is not as continuous as commonly thought. In transmission stages, we find novel, sex-specific roles for differential expression of contingency gene families that are usually associated with immune evasion and pathogenesis.

Keywords: P. falciparum; cell biology; evolutionary biology; genomics; malaria; scRNAseq; transmission.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Animals
  • Gene Expression Profiling*
  • Genetic Variation*
  • Humans
  • Plasmodium / genetics*
  • Rodentia
  • Sequence Analysis, RNA*
  • Single-Cell Analysis*