Sexual reproduction of Plasmodium falciparum parasites is critical to the spread of malaria in the human population. The factors that regulate gene expression underlying formation of fertilization-competent gametes, however, remain unknown. Here, we report that P. falciparum expresses a protein with an AT-rich interaction domain (ARID) which, in other organisms, is part of chromatin remodeling complexes. P. falciparum ARID (PfARID) localized to the parasite nucleus and is critical for the formation of male gametes and fertility of female gametes. PfARID gene deletion (Pfarid-) gametocytes showed downregulation of gene expression important for gametogenesis, antigenic variation, and cell signaling and for parasite development in the mosquito. Our study identifies PfARID as a critical nuclear protein involved in regulating the gene expression landscape of mature gametocytes. This establishes fertility and also prepares the parasite for postfertilization events that are essential for infection of the mosquito vector. IMPORTANCE Successful completion of the Plasmodium life cycle requires formation of mature gametocytes and their uptake by the female Anopheles mosquito vector in an infected blood meal. Inside the mosquito midgut the parasite undergoes gametogenesis and sexual reproduction. In the present study, we demonstrate that PfARID is essential for male gametogenesis and female fertility and, thereby, transmission to the mosquito vector. PfARID possibly regulates the chromatin landscape of stage V gametocytes and targeting PfARID function may provide new avenues into designing interventions to prevent malaria transmission.
Keywords: ARID; chromatin; differentiation; gametocyte; transmission.