From cradle to grave: RNA biology in malaria parasites

Katie R Hughes, Nisha Philip, G Lucas Starnes, Sonya Taylor, Andrew P. Waters

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


Malaria is caused by the unicellular apicomplexan parasites of the genus Plasmodium, some of which, including the major human parasite Plasmodium falciparum, have extreme genome compositions (A/T content > 80%). In this overview of RNA production, roles and degradation, we show that despite their unusual genome composition these parasites generally exhibit the standard eukaryotic features of these processes. Thus genes are monocistronic and transcribed by RNA polymerases that conform to the general categories of I, II, and III. Plasmodium spp. are unusual in that they possess structurally distinct rRNA genes that are expressed at different points in the complicated life cycle of the parasite. Transcription in blood stage asexual parasites follows a cascade consistent with a dependency upon plant-like apetala 2 (AP2) DNA-binding proteins. mRNA is transported to, translated and degraded in the cytoplasm and the transcription pattern is largely inflexible and responsive to temperature and glucose but not drugs. Furthermore, although Plasmodium spp. undertake controlled repression of mRNA species at a number of points in their life cycle only one mechanism, employed by female gametocytes (gamete precursor cells), is clear; it resembles that of metazoan female gametes, consisting of a complex of repression-associated proteins in an architecture formed with the mRNA 5' cap and dependent on U-rich untranslated region (UTR) elements. Extensive antisense transcription has been documented resulting in the production of both short and long transcripts of generally unknown functional significance. This review attempts to summarize what is currently known about the biology of Plasmodium RNA.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)287-303
Number of pages17
JournalWiley Interdisciplinary Reviews: RNA
Issue number2
Early online date2 Aug 2010
Publication statusPublished - 22 Sep 2011


  • Animals
  • Biology
  • Female
  • Genes, Protozoan
  • Genome, Protozoan
  • Humans
  • Malaria
  • Models, Biological
  • Plasmodium
  • RNA Stability
  • RNA, Protozoan
  • Transcription, Genetic
  • Journal Article
  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't
  • Review


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