In model organisms, type IV ATPases (P4-ATPases) require cell division control protein 50 (CDC50) chaperones for their phospholipid flipping activity. In the malaria parasite Plasmodium falciparum, guanylyl cyclase alpha (GCα) is an integral membrane protein that is essential for release (egress) of merozoites from their host erythrocytes. GCα is unusual in that it contains both a C-terminal cyclase domain and an N-terminal P4-ATPase domain of unknown function. We sought to investigate whether any of the three CDC50 orthologues (termed A, B, and C) encoded by P. falciparum are required for GCα function. Using gene tagging and conditional gene disruption, we demonstrate that CDC50B and CDC50C but not CDC50A are expressed in the clinically important asexual blood stages and that CDC50B is a binding partner of GCα whereas CDC50C is the binding partner of another putative P4-ATPase, phospholipid-transporting ATPase 2 (ATP2). Our findings indicate that CDC50B has no essential role for intraerythrocytic parasite maturation but modulates the rate of parasite egress by interacting with GCα for optimal cGMP synthesis. In contrast, CDC50C is essential for blood stage trophozoite maturation. Additionally, we find that the CDC50C-ATP2 complex may influence parasite endocytosis of host cell hemoglobin and consequently hemozoin formation. IMPORTANCE Malaria morbidity arises due to successive rounds of replication of Plasmodium parasites within red blood cells. Mature daughter merozoites are released from infected erythrocytes to invade new cells in a tightly regulated process termed egress. Previous studies have shown that a unique bifunctional guanylyl cyclase, GCα, initiates egress by synthesis of cGMP. GCα has an N-terminal P4-ATPase domain of unknown function. In model organisms, P4-ATPases function through interaction with a CDC50 partner protein. Here, we investigate the role of CDC50 orthologues in P. falciparum and show that GCα binds CDC50B, an interaction that regulates egress efficiency. We also find that CDC50C is essential and binds a putative P4-ATPase, ATP2, in a complex that influences endocytosis of host hemaglobin. Our results highlight the heterogenous and critical role of CDC50 proteins in P. falciparum.
Keywords: CDC50; P4-ATPase; Plasmodium falciparum; malaria; signal transduction.