3-D structure reveals malaria genome, may contribute to new anti-malaria strategy

Researchers at the University of California, Riverside said on Friday that they have created a 3-D model of the Plasmodium falciparum genome to better understand how the parasite causes malaria in humans.

"Understanding the spatial organization of chromosomes is essential to comprehend the regulation of gene expression in any eukaryotic cell," Karine Le Roch, an associate professor of cell biology and neuroscience, said.

The team discovered the genes that are involved in transmitting the virus are highly expressed and clustered in the same area of the nucleus, while other genes, such as those related to virulence, were discovered in a repressed area. Creating the 3-D structure revealed a major repression center.

Le Roch said the virulence genes are responsible for the parasite's ability to survive in humans. The genes were discovered in one repression center in the nucleus, and appear to drive genome organization.

"If we understand how the malaria parasite genome is organized in the nucleus and which components control this organization, we may be able to disrupt this architecture and disrupt, too, the parasite development," Le Roch said. "We know that the genome architecture is critical in regulating gene expression and, more important, in regulating genes that are critical for parasite virulence. Now we can more carefully search for components or drugs that can disrupt this organization, helping in the identification of new anti-malaria strategies."

Study results were published online in Genome Research.