Autocatalytic activation of a malarial egress protease is druggable and requires a protein cofactor

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Malaria parasite egress from host erythrocytes (RBCs) is regulated by discharge of a parasite serine protease called SUB1 into the parasitophorous vacuole (PV). There, SUB1 activates a PV-resident cysteine protease called SERA6, enabling host RBC rupture through SERA6-mediated degradation of the RBC cytoskeleton protein β-spectrin. Here, we show that the activation of Plasmodium falciparum SERA6 involves a second, autocatalytic step that is triggered by SUB1 cleavage. Unexpectedly, autoproteolytic maturation of SERA6 requires interaction in multimolecular complexes with a distinct PV-located protein cofactor, MSA180, that is itself a SUB1 substrate. Genetic ablation of MSA180 mimics SERA6 disruption, producing a fatal block in β-spectrin cleavage and RBC rupture. Drug-like inhibitors of SERA6 autoprocessing similarly prevent β-spectrin cleavage and egress in both P. falciparum and the emerging zoonotic pathogen P. knowlesi. Our results elucidate the egress pathway and identify SERA6 as a target for a new class of antimalarial drugs designed to prevent disease progression.

Journal details

Volume 40
Issue number 11
Pages e107226
Available online
Publication date