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A Plasmodium falciparum copper-binding membrane protein with copper transport motifs

David L Choveaux1, Jude M Przyborski2 and JP Dean Goldring1*

Author Affiliations

1 Biochemistry, University of KwaZulu-Natal, P.B. X01, Carbis Road, Scottsville, 3209, South Africa

2 Parasitology, Faculty of Biology, Philipps University Marburg, Karl von Frisch Str. 8, Marburg, D-35043, Germany

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Malaria Journal 2012, 11:397  doi:10.1186/1475-2875-11-397

Published: 29 November 2012



Copper is an essential catalytic co-factor for metabolically important cellular enzymes, such as cytochrome-c oxidase. Eukaryotic cells acquire copper through a copper transport protein and distribute intracellular copper using molecular chaperones. The copper chelator, neocuproine, inhibits Plasmodium falciparum ring-to-trophozoite transition in vitro, indicating a copper requirement for malaria parasite development. How the malaria parasite acquires or secretes copper still remains to be fully elucidated.


PlasmoDB was searched for sequences corresponding to candidate P. falciparum copper-requiring proteins. The amino terminal domain of a putative P. falciparum copper transport protein was cloned and expressed as a maltose binding fusion protein. The copper binding ability of this protein was examined. Copper transport protein-specific anti-peptide antibodies were generated in chickens and used to establish native protein localization in P. falciparum parasites by immunofluorescence microscopy.


Six P. falciparum copper-requiring protein orthologs and a candidate P. falciparum copper transport protein (PF14_0369), containing characteristic copper transport protein features, were identified in PlasmoDB. The recombinant amino terminal domain of the transport protein bound reduced copper in vitro and within Escherichia coli cells during recombinant expression. Immunolocalization studies tracked the copper binding protein translocating from the erythrocyte plasma membrane in early ring stage to a parasite membrane as the parasites developed to schizonts. The protein appears to be a PEXEL-negative membrane protein.


Plasmodium falciparum parasites express a native protein with copper transporter characteristics that binds copper in vitro. Localization of the protein to the erythrocyte and parasite plasma membranes could provide a mechanism for the delivery of novel anti-malarial compounds.

Malaria; Copper transporter; Permeome; PEXEL-negative