Essential role of a Plasmodium berghei heat shock protein (PBANKA_0938300) in gametocyte development

Sci Rep. 2021 Dec 8;11(1):23640. doi: 10.1038/s41598-021-03059-4.


The continued existence of Plasmodium parasites in physiologically distinct environments during their transmission in mosquitoes and vertebrate hosts requires effector proteins encoded by parasite genes to provide adaptability. Parasites utilize their robust stress response system involving heat shock proteins for their survival. Molecular chaperones are involved in maintaining protein homeostasis within a cell during stress, protein biogenesis and the formation of protein complexes. Due to their critical role in parasite virulence, they are considered targets for therapeutic interventions. Our results identified a putative P. berghei heat shock protein (HSP) belonging to the HSP40 family (HspJ62), which is abundantly induced upon heat stress and expressed during all parasite stages. To determine the role HspJ62, a gene-disrupted P. berghei transgenic line was developed (ΔHspJ62), which resulted in disruption of gametocyte formation. Such parasites were unable to form subsequent sexual stages because of disrupted gametogenesis, indicating the essential role of HspJ62 in gametocyte formation. Transcriptomic analysis of the transgenic line showed downregulation of a number of genes, most of which were specific to male or female gametocytes. The transcription factor ApiAP2 was also downregulated in ΔHspJ62 parasites. Our findings suggest that the downregulation of ApiAP2 likely disrupts the transcriptional regulation of sexual stage genes, leading to impaired gametogenesis. This finding also highlights the critical role that HspJ62 indirectly plays in the development of P. berghei sexual stages and in facilitating the conversion from the asexual blood stage to the sexual stage. This study characterizes the HspJ62 protein as a fertility factor because parasites lacking it are unable to transmit to mosquitoes. This study adds an important contribution to ongoing research aimed at understanding gametocyte differentiation and formation in parasites. The molecule adds to the list of potential drug targets that can be targeted to inhibit parasite sexual development and consequently parasite transmission.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Animals
  • Female
  • Gametogenesis / physiology*
  • Heat-Shock Proteins / genetics
  • Heat-Shock Proteins / physiology*
  • Hot Temperature
  • Life Cycle Stages
  • Male
  • Plasmodium berghei / physiology*
  • Protozoan Proteins / physiology*


  • Heat-Shock Proteins
  • Protozoan Proteins