Plasmodium falciparum GCN5 acetyltransferase follows a novel proteolytic processing pathway that is essential for its function

J Cell Sci. 2020 Jan 9;133(1):jcs236489. doi: 10.1242/jcs.236489.


The pathogenesis of human malarial parasite Plasmodium falciparum is interlinked with its timely control of gene expression during its complex life cycle. In this organism, gene expression is partially controlled through epigenetic mechanisms, the regulation of which is, hence, of paramount importance to the parasite. The P. falciparum (Pf)-GCN5 histone acetyltransferase (HAT), an essential enzyme, acetylates histone 3 and regulates global gene expression in the parasite. Here, we show the existence of a novel proteolytic processing for PfGCN5 that is crucial for its activity in vivo We find that a cysteine protease-like enzyme is required for the processing of PfGCN5 protein. Immunofluorescence and immuno-electron microscopy analysis suggest that the processing event occurs in the vicinity of the digestive vacuole of the parasite following its trafficking through the classical ER-Golgi secretory pathway, before it subsequently reaches the nucleus. Furthermore, blocking of PfGCN5 processing leads to the concomitant reduction of its occupancy at the gene promoters and a reduced H3K9 acetylation level at these promoters, highlighting the important correlation between the processing event and PfGCN5 activity. Altogether, our study reveals a unique processing event for a nuclear protein PfGCN5 with unforeseen role of a food vacuolar cysteine protease. This leads to a possibility of the development of new antimalarials against these targets.This article has an associated First Person interview with the first author of the paper.

Keywords: ChIP seq; ChIP sequencing; Cysteine protease; GCN5; Histone acetylation; Histone acetyltransferase; Malaria; Plasmodium falciparum; Protein processing.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Animals
  • Humans
  • Plasmodium falciparum / pathogenicity*
  • Protozoan Proteins / metabolism*
  • p300-CBP Transcription Factors / metabolism*


  • Protozoan Proteins
  • p300-CBP Transcription Factors
  • p300-CBP-associated factor