The Plasmodium falciparum pseudoprotease SERA5 regulates the kinetics and efficiency of malaria parasite egress from host erythrocytes

More about Open Access at the Crick


Egress of the malaria parasite Plasmodium falciparum from its host red blood cell is a rapid, highly regulated event that is essential for maintenance and completion of the parasite life cycle. Egress is protease-dependent and is temporally associated with extensive proteolytic modification of parasite proteins, including a family of papain-like proteins called SERA that are expressed in the parasite parasitophorous vacuole. Previous work has shown that the most abundant SERA, SERA5, plays an important but non-enzymatic role in asexual blood stages. SERA5 is extensively proteolytically processed by a parasite serine protease called SUB1 as well as an unidentified cysteine protease just prior to egress. However, neither the function of SERA5 nor the role of its processing is known. Here we show that conditional disruption of the SERA5 gene, or of both the SERA5 and related SERA4 genes simultaneously, results in a dramatic egress and replication defect characterised by premature host cell rupture and the failure of daughter merozoites to efficiently disseminate, instead being transiently retained within residual bounding membranes. SERA5 is not required for poration (permeabilization) or vesiculation of the host cell membrane at egress, but the premature rupture phenotype requires the activity of a parasite or host cell cysteine protease. Complementation of SERA5 null parasites by ectopic expression of wild-type SERA5 reversed the egress defect, whereas expression of a SERA5 mutant refractory to processing failed to rescue the phenotype. Our findings implicate SERA5 as an important regulator of the kinetics and efficiency of egress and suggest that proteolytic modification is required for SERA5 function. In addition, our study reveals that efficient egress requires tight control of the timing of membrane rupture.

Journal details

Journal PLOS Pathogens
Volume 13
Issue number 7
Pages e1006453
Available online
Publication date