Videvall E, Cornwallis CK, Ahrén D, Palinauskas V, Valkiūnas G, Hellgren O
Mol. Ecol. 26 (11) 2939-2958 [2017-06-00; online 2017-04-08]
Malaria parasites (Plasmodium spp.) include some of the world's most widespread and virulent pathogens. Our knowledge of the molecular mechanisms these parasites use to invade and exploit their hosts other than in mice and primates is, however, extremely limited. It is therefore imperative to characterize transcriptome-wide gene expression from nonmodel malaria parasites and how this varies across individual hosts. Here, we used high-throughput Illumina RNA sequencing on blood from wild-caught Eurasian siskins experimentally infected with a clonal strain of the avian malaria parasite Plasmodium ashfordi (lineage GRW2). Using a bioinformatic multistep approach to filter out host transcripts, we successfully assembled the blood-stage transcriptome of P. ashfordi. A total of 11 954 expressed transcripts were identified, and 7860 were annotated with protein information. We quantified gene expression levels of all parasite transcripts across three hosts during two infection stages - peak and decreasing parasitemia. Interestingly, parasites from the same host displayed remarkably similar expression profiles during different infection stages, but showed large differences across hosts, indicating that P. ashfordi may adjust its gene expression to specific host individuals. We further show that the majority of transcripts are most similar to the human parasite Plasmodium falciparum, and a large number of red blood cell invasion genes were discovered, suggesting evolutionary conserved invasion strategies between mammalian and avian Plasmodium. The transcriptome of P. ashfordi and its host-specific gene expression advances our understanding of Plasmodium plasticity and is a valuable resource as it allows for further studies analysing gene evolution and comparisons of parasite gene expression.
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