Publications & Reports

Alternative splicing is required for stage differentiation in malaria parasites.

Lee M Yeoh, Christopher D Goodman, Vanessa Mollard, Emma McHugh, V Vern Lee, Angelika Sturm, Anton Cozijnsen, Geoffrey I McFadden, Stuart A Ralph
Department of Biochemistry and Molecular Biology, Bio21 Molecular Science and Biotechnology Institute, The University of Melbourne, Parkville, 3010, Australia.

Abstract

BACKGROUND: In multicellular organisms, alternative splicing is central to tissue differentiation and identity. Unicellular protists lack multicellular tissue but differentiate into variable cell types during their life cycles. The role of alternative splicing in transitions between cell types and establishing cellular identity is currently unknown in any unicellular organism. RESULTS: To test whether alternative splicing in unicellular protists plays a role in cellular differentiation, we conduct RNA-seq to compare splicing in female and male sexual stages to asexual intraerythrocytic stages in the rodent malaria parasite Plasmodium berghei. We find extensive changes in alternative splicing between stages and a role for alternative splicing in sexual differentiation. Previously, general gametocyte differentiation was shown to be modulated by specific transcription factors. Here, we show that alternative splicing establishes a subsequent layer of regulation, controlling genes relating to consequent sex-specific differentiation of gametocytes. CONCLUSIONS: We demonstrate that alternative splicing is reprogrammed during cellular differentiation of a unicellular protist. Disruption of an alternative splicing factor, PbSR-MG, perturbs sex-specific alternative splicing and decreases the ability of the parasites to differentiate into male gametes and oocysts, thereby reducing transmission between vertebrate and insect hosts. Our results reveal alternative splicing as an integral, stage-specific phenomenon in these protists and as a regulator of cellular differentiation that arose early in eukaryotic evolution.

Publication

  • Journal: Genome Biology
  • Published: 01/08/2019
  • Volume: 20
  • Issue: 1
  • Pagination: 151

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