Epigenetics and chromatin structure regulate var2csa expression and the placental binding phenotype in Plasmodium falciparum

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Epigenetics and chromatin structure regulate var2csa expression and the placental binding phenotype in Plasmodium falciparum

Authors

Lenz, T.; Sirel, M.; Hoppe, H.; Shafeeq, S.; Le Roch, K.; Ribacke, U.

Abstract

Plasmodium falciparum is responsible for what appears to be a never-ending public health issue in the developing world. With repeated infections, a gradual semi-immunity to severe malaria can be acquired but this is disrupted when women become pregnant as the parasite cytoadheres in the placenta to prevent splenic clearance. This change in tissue tropism is due to specific expression of the antigenically variable adhesin VAR2CSA. To better understand the molecular mechanisms activating var2csa and antigenic variation over all, we used a combination of phenotypic and systems biology assays. We first established phenotypically homogenous populations of VAR2CSA expressing and placenta binding parasites that were shown to exclusively transcribe var2csa while all other var genes remained silenced. We also confirmed that the transcriptional activation was strongly associated with distinct depletion of repressive H3K9me3 marks. Further, we used chromatin conformation capture as a high-resolution approach to determine interchromosomal interactions and established that transcriptional activation is linked to a small yet significant repositioning of var2csa relative to heterochromatic telomeric clusters. Lastly, we demonstrated that occupancy of 5-methylcytosine was present in all var genes but independent of transcriptional activation and switching. All together, these findings provide insights at high resolution into the potential role of 5-methylcytosine in P. falciparum and increase our understanding of the mechanisms regulating antigenic variation at the epigenetics and chromatin structure level.

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