Multifunctional involvement of a C2H2 zinc finger protein (PbZfp) in malaria transmission, histone modification, and susceptibility to DNA damage response

Anusha M. Gopalakrishnan, Ahmed S.I. Aly, L. Aravind, Nirbhay Kumar

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

2 Scopus citations


In sexually reproducing organisms, meiosis is an essential step responsible for generation of haploid gametes from diploid somatic cells. The quest for understanding regulatory mechanisms of meiotic recombination in Plasmodium led to identification of a gene encoding a protein that contains 11 copies of C2H2 zinc fingers (ZnF). Reverse genetic approaches were used to create Plasmodium berghei parasites either lacking expression of full-length Plasmodium berghei zinc finger protein (PbZfp) (knockout [KO]) or expressing PbZfp lacking C-terminal zinc finger region (truncated [Trunc]). Mice infected with KO parasites survived two times longer (P < 0.0001) than mice infected with wild-type (WT) parasites. In mosquito transmission experiments, the infectivity of KO and Trunc parasites was severely compromised (>95% oocyst reduction). KO parasites revealed a total lack of trimethylation of histone 3 at several lysine residues (K4, K27, and K36) without any effect on acetylation patterns (H3K9, H3K14, and H4K16). Reduced DNA damage and reduced expression of topoisomerase-like Spo11 in the KO parasites with normal Rad51 expression further suggest a functional role for PbZfp during genetic recombination that involves DNA double-strand break (DSB) formation followed by DNA repair. These finding raise the possibility of some convergent similarities of PbZfp functions to functions of mammalian PRDM9, also a C2H2 ZnF protein with histone 3 lysine 4 (H3K4) methyltransferase activity. These functions include the major role played by the latter in binding recombination hotspots in the genome during meiosis and trimethylation of the associated histones and subsequent chromatin recruitment of topoisomerase-like Spo11 to catalyze DNA DSB formation and DMC1/Rad51-mediated DNA repair and homologous recombination. IMPORTANCE Malaria parasites are haploid throughout their life cycle except for a brief time period when zygotes are produced as a result of fertilization between male and female gametes during transmission through the mosquito vector. The reciprocal recombination events that follow zygote formation ensure orderly segregation of homologous chromosomes during meiosis, creating genetic diversity among offspring. Studies presented in the current manuscript identify a novel C2H2 ZnFcontaining protein exhibiting multifunctional roles in parasite virulence, mosquito transmission, and homologous recombination during meiosis. Understanding the transmission biology of malaria will result in the identification of novel targets for transmission-blocking intervention approaches.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Article numbere01298-17
Issue number4
StatePublished - Jul 1 2017
Externally publishedYes


  • DNA damage
  • Epigenetic modification
  • Malaria transmission
  • Zinc finger proteins

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Microbiology
  • Virology


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