Malaria parasites cause disease through repeated cycles of intraerythrocytic proliferation. Within each cycle, several rounds of DNA replication produce multinucleated forms, called schizonts, that undergo segmentation to form daughter merozoites. Upon rupture of the infected cell, the merozoites egress to invade new erythrocytes and repeat the cycle. In human malarial infections, an antibody response specific for the Plasmodium falciparum protein PF3D7_1021800 was previously associated with protection against malaria, leading to an interest in PF3D7_1021800 as a candidate vaccine antigen. Antibodies to the protein were reported to inhibit egress, resulting in it being named schizont egress antigen-1 (SEA1). A separate study found that SEA1 undergoes phosphorylation in a manner dependent upon the parasite cGMP-dependent protein kinase PKG, which triggers egress. While these findings imply a role for SEA1 in merozoite egress, this protein has also been implicated in kinetochore function during schizont development. Therefore, the function of SEA1 remains unclear. Here, we show that P. falciparum SEA1 localizes in proximity to centromeres within dividing nuclei and that conditional disruption of SEA1 expression severely impacts the distribution of DNA and formation of merozoites during schizont development, with a proportion of SEA1-null merozoites completely lacking nuclei. SEA1-null schizonts rupture, albeit with low efficiency, suggesting that neither SEA1 function nor normal segmentation is a prerequisite for egress. We conclude that SEA1 does not play a direct mechanistic role in egress but instead acts upstream of egress as an essential regulator required to ensure the correct packaging of nuclei within merozoites.IMPORTANCE Malaria is a deadly infectious disease. Rationally designed novel therapeutics will be essential for its control and eradication. The Plasmodium falciparum protein PF3D7_1021800, annotated as SEA1, is under investigation as a prospective component of a malaria vaccine, based on previous indications that antibodies to SEA1 interfere with parasite egress from infected erythrocytes. However, a consensus on the function of SEA1 is lacking. Here, we demonstrate that SEA1 localizes to dividing parasite nuclei and is necessary for the correct segregation of replicated DNA into individual daughter merozoites. In the absence of SEA1, merozoites develop defectively, often completely lacking a nucleus, and, consequently, egress is impaired and/or aberrant. Our findings provide insights into the divergent mechanisms by which intraerythrocytic malaria parasites develop and divide. Our conclusions regarding the localization and function of SEA1 are not consistent with the hypothesis that antibodies against it confer protective immunity to malaria by blocking merozoite egress.
Keywords: CENP-C; Plasmodium falciparum; SEA1; egress; malaria; schizogony.
Copyright © 2021 Perrin et al.