A systems-based analysis of Plasmodium vivax lifecycle transcription from human to mosquito.
Up to 40% of the world's population is at risk for Plasmodium vivax malaria, a disease that imposes a major public health and economic burden on endemic countries. Because P. vivax produces latent liver forms, eradication of P. vivax malaria is more challenging than it is for P. falciparum. Genetic analysis of P. vivax is exceptionally difficult due to limitations of in vitro culture. To overcome the barriers to traditional molecular biology in P. vivax, we examined parasite transcriptional changes in samples from infected patients and mosquitoes in order to characterize gene function, define regulatory sequences and reveal new potential vaccine candidate genes.
We observed dramatic changes in transcript levels for various genes at different lifecycle stages, indicating that development is partially regulated through modulation of mRNA levels. Our data show that genes involved in common biological processes or molecular machinery are co-expressed. We identified DNA sequence motifs upstream of co-expressed genes that are conserved across Plasmodium species that are likely binding sites of proteins that regulate stage-specific transcription. Despite their capacity to form hypnozoites we found that P. vivax sporozoites show stage-specific expression of the same genes needed for hepatocyte invasion and liver stage development in other Plasmodium species. We show that many of the predicted exported proteins and members of multigene families show highly coordinated transcription as well.
We conclude that high-quality gene expression data can be readily obtained directly from patient samples and that many of the same uncharacterized genes that are upregulated in different P. vivax lifecycle stages are also upregulated in similar stages in other Plasmodium species. We also provide numerous examples of how systems biology is a powerful method for determining the likely function of genes in pathogens that are neglected due to experimental intractability.