Malaria; proteomics; phosphoproteomics; protein kinases


Malaria is a life-threatening disease caused by Plasmodium parasites that are spread through the bites of infected mosquito vectors. It is a worldwide pandemic that threatens 3.4 billion people annually. Currently, there are only a few validated Plasmodium drug targets, while drug resistance continues to rise. This marks the urgency for the development of novel parasite-specific therapeutics. Plasmodium falciparum diverges from the paradigm of the eukaryotic cell cycle by undergoing multiple rounds of DNA replication and nuclear division without cytokinesis. A better understanding of the molecular switches that coordinate the progression of the parasite through the intraerythrocytic developmental stages will be of fundamental importance for the design of rational intervention strategies. To achieve this goal, we performed an isobaric tag-based approach for a system-wide quantitative analysis of protein expression and site-specific phosphorylation events of the Plasmodium asexual developmental cycle in the red blood cells. This study identified 2,767 proteins, 1,337 phosphoproteins, and 6,293 phosphorylation sites. Approximately 34% of identified proteins and 75% of phosphorylation sites exhibit changes in abundance as the intraerythrocytic cycle progresses. Because the links between Plasmodium protein kinases as key cell cycle regulators to cellular events are largely unknown, it is of importance to define their cognate physiological substrates. To test the hypothesis that genetic screening would be a useful approach for discovery of candidate substrates of a protein kinase, we used the orphan kinase PfPK7 as a model. Our comparison of the phosphoproteome profiles between the wild-type 3D7 and PfPK7- parasites identified 146 proteins with 239 phosphorylation sites exhibiting decreased phosphorylation in the absence of PfPK7 at the developmental stages where nuclear division and merozoite formation occur. Further analysis of the decreased phosphorylated events revealed three motifs that are enriched among phosphorylated sites in proteins that are down regulated. In vitro kinase assays were done to validate the potential substrates of PfPK7 and to elucidate the signaling events that are regulated by PfPK7. In parallel to our experimental analysis, we used a computational approach for substrate prediction from our phosphoproteome dataset. This analysis identified 43 distinct phosphorylation motifs and a range of proline-directed potential MAPK/CDK substrates. To identify substrates/ interactors of Plasmodium CDK-like kinases, we also used HA-tagged CDK-like kinases, PfPK6 and Pfmrk lines. Co-immunoprecipitation of the HA-tagged PfPK6 and Pfmrk baits, followed by mass spectrometric analyses, identified the components of the protein interaction complexes of these kinases. Our analyses of HA-PfPK6 and HA-Pfmrk immunoprecipitates identified 15 and 21 proteins in the interaction complex, respectively. The ability of recombinant PfPK6 and Pfmrk to interact and/or utilize any of the proteins identified in the interaction complex as substrates was verified through in vitro kinase assays and pull-down analysis. This study is the most comprehensive definition of the constitutive and regulated expression of the Plasmodium proteome during the intraerythrocytic developmental cycle, and offered an insight into the dynamics of phosphorylation during the asexual cycle progression [1]. In summary, this study has 1) defined the constitutive and regulated expression of the Plasmodium proteome during its asexual life cycle, 2) demonstrated that fluctuation and reversible phosphorylation is important for the regulation of P. falciparum*s unique cell cycle, 3) provided the foundation for quantitative phosphoproteomic analysis of kinase negative mutants to understand their function, 4) provided a major step towards defining kinase-substrate pairs operative within parasite*s signaling networks, and 5) generated a preliminary interactome for PfPK6.


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Graduation Date





Chakrabarti, Debopam


Doctor of Philosophy (Ph.D.)


College of Medicine


Burnett School of Biomedical Sciences

Degree Program

Biomedical Sciences








Release Date

August 2020

Length of Campus-only Access

5 years

Access Status

Doctoral Dissertation (Campus-only Access)


Dissertations, Academic -- Medicine; Medicine -- Dissertations, Academic