A Prioritized and Validated Resource of Mitochondrial Proteins in Plasmodium Identifies Unique Biology

mSphere. 2021 Oct 27;6(5):e0061421. doi: 10.1128/mSphere.00614-21. Epub 2021 Sep 8.


Plasmodium species have a single mitochondrion that is essential for their survival and has been successfully targeted by antimalarial drugs. Most mitochondrial proteins are imported into this organelle, and our picture of the Plasmodium mitochondrial proteome remains incomplete. Many data sources contain information about mitochondrial localization, including proteome and gene expression profiles, orthology to mitochondrial proteins from other species, coevolutionary relationships, and amino acid sequences, each with different coverage and reliability. To obtain a comprehensive, prioritized list of Plasmodium falciparum mitochondrial proteins, we rigorously analyzed and integrated eight data sets using Bayesian statistics into a predictive score per protein for mitochondrial localization. At a corrected false discovery rate of 25%, we identified 445 proteins with a sensitivity of 87% and a specificity of 97%. They include proteins that have not been identified as mitochondrial in other eukaryotes but have characterized homologs in bacteria that are involved in metabolism or translation. Mitochondrial localization of seven Plasmodium berghei orthologs was confirmed by epitope labeling and colocalization with a mitochondrial marker protein. One of these belongs to a newly identified apicomplexan mitochondrial protein family that in P. falciparum has four members. With the experimentally validated mitochondrial proteins and the complete ranked P. falciparum proteome, which we have named PlasmoMitoCarta, we present a resource to study unique proteins of Plasmodium mitochondria. IMPORTANCE The unique biology and medical relevance of the mitochondrion of the malaria parasite Plasmodium falciparum have made it the subject of many studies. However, we actually do not have a comprehensive assessment of which proteins reside in this organelle. Many omics data are available that are predictive of mitochondrial localization, such as proteomics data and expression data. Individual data sets are, however, rarely complete and can provide conflicting evidence. We integrated a wide variety of available omics data in a manner that exploits the relative strengths of the data sets. Our analysis gave a predictive score for the mitochondrial localization to each nuclear encoded P. falciparum protein and identified 445 likely mitochondrial proteins. We experimentally validated the mitochondrial localization of seven of the new mitochondrial proteins, confirming the quality of the complete list. These include proteins that have not been observed mitochondria before, adding unique mitochondrial functions to P. falciparum.

Keywords: Bayesian data integration; Plasmodium; mitochondria.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Animals
  • Bayes Theorem
  • Female
  • Male
  • Mice
  • Mitochondria / genetics*
  • Mitochondrial Dynamics
  • Mitochondrial Proteins / genetics*
  • Mitochondrial Proteins / metabolism
  • Plasmodium falciparum / genetics*
  • Plasmodium falciparum / growth & development*
  • Proteomics
  • Protozoan Proteins / genetics*
  • Protozoan Proteins / metabolism
  • Reproducibility of Results


  • Mitochondrial Proteins
  • Protozoan Proteins