Plasmodium falciparum, the organism that causes the most prevalent and most virulent cases of malaria in humans, poses a major health burden on the developing world, especially in the tropical regions of Sub-Saharan Africa, Southeast Asia, and Latin America. The burden of the disease is intensified by the fact that the parasite has developed widespread resistance to all current antimalarial therapies, such as chloroquine. This drug resistance underscores the need to develop novel therapeutics that target the parasite, but show low toxicity in the human host. Protein kinases, because of their integral roles in cell signaling networks, are considered to be attractive drug targets. Cyclin dependent kinases, or CDKs, and Mitogen-Activated Protein kinases, or MAPKs, are common to eukaryotes and regulate cellular processes of growth and proliferation. Plasmodium falciparum Protein Kinase 6, or PfPK6, is an atypical protein kinase that shows similarities to both MAPKs and CDKs. PfPK6 is expected to have an important role in the intraerythrocytic cell cycle progression and growth in the malaria organism, as it has been found to be essential in the parasite.

In order to better understand the function of PfPK6 within Plasmodium, we have identified serveral potential substrates and interactors of the kinase using co-immunoprecipitation with an HA epitope-tagged cell line of PfPK6, as well as phosphoproteomic analysis. These methods resulted identification of 15 novel protein interactors, with 4 being studied for further investigation, and 45 putative substrates after strict peptide filtering, five of which are used in this study. In order to verify putative substrates and interactors, both in vitro and in vivo methods were used. In vitro kinase assays using GST-PfPK6 with 5 recombinant substrates confirmed direct phosphorylation of two novel substrates: MAL7P1.38, a regulator of chromosome condensation, and PF10_0047, a putative RNA binding protein. After attempts to generate bacterial constructs of several putative interactors and a global failure of a usable amount of protein to express under IPTG induction conditions, an alternative form of expression using a cell free Transcription and Translation reaction (TNT) with Wheat Germ Extract was used to generate radiolabeled PF11_0154, PFF0625w, and PF11_0305. Pull down analysis using GST-PfPK6 showed the kinase's ability to "pull" the interactors out of solution, confirming the interactions defined by the initial epitope tagged Co-Immunoprecipitation. Additionally, for in vivo analysis, parasites were transfected with RFP- PFF_0695w, an uncharacterized Plasmodium protein, in order to cellular localization of this interactors. Immunofluorescence assays of transfected lines showed punctate forms of PFF_0695w in the host erythrocyte in the late trophozoite and schizont stages of the parasite development, suggesting this interactor is a previously undiscovered protein in the Plasmodium secretome. The research presented here is an initial step to defining the interactome of PfPK6.

Thesis Completion




Thesis Chair/Advisor

Chakrabarti, Debopam


Bachelor of Science (B.S.)


College of Medicine


Burnett School of Biomedical Sciences

Degree Program

Biomedical Sciences


Orlando (Main) Campus



Access Status

Open Access

Length of Campus-only Access

5 years

Release Date

May 2021

Included in

Parasitology Commons