Targeted repression of Plasmodium apicortin by host microRNA impairs malaria parasite growth and invasion

Dis Model Mech. 2020 Jun 3;13(6):dmm042820. doi: 10.1242/dmm.042820.


Mature human erythrocytes contain a rich pool of microRNAs (miRNAs), which result from differentiation of the erythrocytes during the course of haematopoiesis. Recent studies have described the effect of erythrocytic miRNAs on the invasion and growth of the malaria parasite Plasmodium falciparum during the asexual blood stage of its life cycle. In this work, we have identified two erythrocytic miRNAs, miR-150-3p and miR-197-5p, that show favourable in silico hybridization with Plasmodium apicortin, a protein with putative microtubule-stabilizing properties. Co-expression of P. falciparum apicortin and these two miRNAs in a cell line model resulted in downregulation of apicortin at both the RNA and protein level. To create a disease model of erythrocytes containing miRNAs, chemically synthesized mimics of miR-150-3p and miR-197-5p were loaded into erythrocytes and subsequently used for invasion by the parasite. Growth of the parasite was hindered in miRNA-loaded erythrocytes, followed by impaired invasion; micronemal secretion was also reduced, especially in the case of miR-197-5p. Apicortin expression was found to be reduced in miRNA-loaded erythrocytes. To interpret the effect of downregulation of apicortin on parasite invasion to host erythrocytes, we investigated the secretion of the invasion-related microneme protein apical membrane antigen 1 (AMA1). AMA1 secretion was found to be reduced in miRNA-treated parasites. Overall, this study identifies apicortin as a novel target within the malaria parasite and establishes miR-197-5p as its miRNA inhibitor. This miRNA represents an unconventional nucleotide-based therapeutic and provides a new host factor-inspired strategy for the design of antimalarial molecular medicine.This article has an associated First Person interview with the first author of the paper.

Keywords: AMA1; Apicortin; Erythrocytes; Hybridization; Invasion; Malaria; Microneme secretion; Plasmodium; miR-150-3p; miR-197-5p.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Adaptor Proteins, Signal Transducing / genetics*
  • Adaptor Proteins, Signal Transducing / metabolism
  • Antimalarials / pharmacology
  • Erythrocytes / metabolism
  • Erythrocytes / parasitology*
  • HEK293 Cells
  • Host-Pathogen Interactions
  • Humans
  • Malaria, Falciparum / drug therapy
  • Malaria, Falciparum / genetics
  • Malaria, Falciparum / parasitology*
  • MicroRNAs / genetics
  • MicroRNAs / metabolism*
  • MicroRNAs / pharmacology
  • Parasite Load
  • Plasmodium falciparum / drug effects
  • Plasmodium falciparum / genetics
  • Plasmodium falciparum / growth & development
  • Plasmodium falciparum / metabolism*
  • Protozoan Proteins / genetics*
  • Protozoan Proteins / metabolism


  • Adaptor Proteins, Signal Transducing
  • Antimalarials
  • MIRN150 microRNA, human
  • MIRN197 microRNA, human
  • MicroRNAs
  • Protozoan Proteins
  • apicortin protein, Plasmodium falciparum