Analysis of pir gene expression across the Plasmodium life cycleMore about Open Access at the Crick
Authors listTim Little Deirdre Cunningham Audrey Vandomme Carlos Talavera Lopez Sarah Amis Christopher Alder John Addy Sarah McLaughlin Caroline Hosking George Christophides Adam J Reid Jean Langhorne
BACKGROUND: Plasmodium interspersed repeat (pir) is the largest multigene family in the genomes of most Plasmodium species. A variety of functions for the PIR proteins which they encode have been proposed, including antigenic variation, immune evasion, sequestration and rosetting. However, direct evidence for these is lacking. The repetitive nature of the family has made it difficult to determine function experimentally. However, there has been some success in using gene expression studies to suggest roles for some members in virulence and chronic infection. METHODS: Here pir gene expression was examined across the life cycle of Plasmodium berghei using publicly available RNAseq data-sets, and at high resolution in the intraerythrocytic development cycle using new data from Plasmodium chabaudi. RESULTS: Expression of pir genes is greatest in stages of the parasite which invade and reside in red blood cells. The marked exception is that liver merozoites and male gametocytes produce a very large number of pir gene transcripts, notably compared to female gametocytes, which produce relatively few. Within the asexual blood stages different subfamilies peak at different times, suggesting further functional distinctions. Representing a subfamily of its own, the highly conserved ancestral pir gene warrants further investigation due to its potential tractability for functional investigation. It is highly transcribed in multiple life cycle stages and across most studied Plasmodium species and thus is likely to play an important role in parasite biology. CONCLUSIONS: The identification of distinct expression patterns for different pir genes and subfamilies is likely to provide a basis for the design of future experiments to uncover their function.