Identification of clustered organellar short (cos) RNAs and of a conserved family of organellar RNA-binding proteins, the heptatricopeptide repeat proteins, in the malaria parasite

Nucleic Acids Res. 2018 Nov 2;46(19):10417-10431. doi: 10.1093/nar/gky710.


Gene expression in mitochondria of Plasmodium falciparum is essential for parasite survival. The molecular mechanisms of Plasmodium organellar gene expression remain poorly understood. This includes the enigmatic assembly of the mitochondrial ribosome from highly fragmented rRNAs. Here, we present the identification of clustered organellar short RNA fragments (cosRNAs) that are possible footprints of RNA-binding proteins (RBPs) in Plasmodium organelles. In plants, RBPs of the pentatricopeptide repeat (PPR) class produce footprints as a consequence of their function in processing organellar RNAs. Intriguingly, many of the Plasmodium cosRNAs overlap with 5'-ends of rRNA fragments. We hypothesize that these are footprints of RBPs involved in assembling the rRNA fragments into a functioning ribosome. A bioinformatics search of the Plasmodium nuclear genome identified a hitherto unrecognized organellar helical-hairpin-repeat protein family that we term heptatricopeptide repeat (HPR) proteins. We demonstrate that selected HPR proteins are targeted to mitochondria in P. berghei and that one of them, PbHPR1, associates with RNA, but not DNA in vitro. A phylogenetic search identified HPR proteins in a wide variety of eukaryotes. We hypothesize that HPR proteins are required for processing and stabilizing RNAs in Apicomplexa and other taxa.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Chloroplasts / genetics
  • Genome / genetics
  • Malaria, Falciparum / genetics*
  • Malaria, Falciparum / parasitology
  • Mitochondria / chemistry
  • Mitochondria / genetics
  • Organelles / genetics*
  • Peptides / chemistry
  • Peptides / genetics
  • Phylogeny
  • Plasmodium falciparum / genetics*
  • Plasmodium falciparum / pathogenicity
  • RNA, Ribosomal / chemistry
  • RNA, Ribosomal / genetics
  • RNA-Binding Proteins / chemistry
  • RNA-Binding Proteins / genetics*
  • Ribosomes / chemistry
  • Ribosomes / genetics


  • Peptides
  • RNA, Ribosomal
  • RNA-Binding Proteins