Plasmodium sporozoites are extracellular forms introduced during mosquito bite that selectively invade mammalian hepatocytes. Sporozoites are delimited by a cell membrane that is linked to the underlying acto-myosin molecular motor. While membrane proteins with roles in motility and invasion have been well studied, very little is known about proteins that maintain the sporozoite shape. We demonstrate that in Plasmodium berghei (Pb) a conserved hypothetical gene, PBANKA_1422900 specifies sporozoite structural integrity maintenance protein (SIMP) required for maintaining the sporozoite shape and motility. Sporozoites lacking SIMP exhibited loss of regular shape, extensive membrane blebbing at multiple foci, and membrane detachment. The mutant sporozoites failed to infect hepatocytes, though the altered shape did not affect the organization of cytoskeleton or inner membrane complex (IMC). Interestingly, the components of IMC failed to extend under the membrane blebs likely suggesting that SIMP may assist in anchoring the membrane to IMC. Endogenous C-terminal HA tagging localized SIMP to membrane and revealed the C-terminus of the protein to be extracellular. Since SIMP is highly conserved among Plasmodium species, these findings have important implications for utilizing it as a novel sporozoite-specific vaccine candidate.
Keywords: Plasmodium; gliding motility; inner membrane complex; sporozoites.
© 2022 John Wiley & Sons Ltd.