Gliding motility of Plasmodium merozoites


Plasmodium malaria parasites are obligate intracellular protozoans that use a unique form of locomotion, termed gliding motility, to move through host tissues and invade cells. The process is substrate dependent and powered by an actomyosin motor that drives the posterior translocation of extracellular adhesins which, in turn, propel the parasite forward. Gliding motility is essential for tissue translocation in the sporozoite and ookinete stages; however, the short-lived erythrocyte-invading merozoite stage has never been observed to undergo gliding movement. Here we show Plasmodium merozoites possess the ability to undergo gliding motility in vitro and that this mechanism is likely an important precursor step for successful parasite invasion. We demonstrate that two human infective species, Plasmodium falciparum and Plasmodium knowlesi, have distinct merozoite motility profiles which may reflect distinct invasion strategies. Additionally, we develop and validate a higher throughput assay to evaluate the effects of genetic and pharmacological perturbations on both the molecular motor and the complex signaling cascade that regulates motility in merozoites. The discovery of merozoite motility provides a model to study the glideosome and adds a dimension for work aiming to develop treatments targeting the blood stage invasion pathways.

Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences of the United States of America, 118(48), art. no. e2114442118; 2021



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