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Dynamic subcellular localization of isoforms of the folate pathway enzyme serine hydroxymethyltransferase (SHMT) through the erythrocytic cycle of Plasmodium falciparum

Martin Read1, Ingrid B Müller2, Sarah L Mitchell13, Paul FG Sims1 and John E Hyde1*

Author Affiliations

1 Manchester Interdisciplinary Biocentre, Faculty of Life Sciences, University of Manchester, 131 Princess Street, Manchester M1 7DN, UK

2 Department of Biochemistry, Bernhard Nocht Institute for Tropical Medicine, Bernhard-Nocht-Strasse 74, 20359 Hamburg, Germany

3 Western Comprehensive Local Research Network (WCLRN), University Hospitals Bristol NHS Foundation Trust, Upper Maudlin Street, Bristol, BS2 8AE, UK

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Malaria Journal 2010, 9:351  doi:10.1186/1475-2875-9-351

Published: 3 December 2010



The folate pathway enzyme serine hydroxymethyltransferase (SHMT) converts serine to glycine and 5,10-methylenetetrahydrofolate and is essential for the acquisition of one-carbon units for subsequent transfer reactions. 5,10-methylenetetrahydrofolate is used by thymidylate synthase to convert dUMP to dTMP for DNA synthesis. In Plasmodium falciparum an enzymatically functional SHMT (PfSHMTc) and a related, apparently inactive isoform (PfSHMTm) are found, encoded by different genes. Here, patterns of localization of the two isoforms during the parasite erythrocytic cycle are investigated.


Polyclonal antibodies were raised to PfSHMTc and PfSHMTm, and, together with specific markers for the mitochondrion and apicoplast, were employed in quantitative confocal fluorescence microscopy of blood-stage parasites.


As well as the expected cytoplasmic occupancy of PfSHMTc during all stages, localization into the mitochondrion and apicoplast occurred in a stage-specific manner. Although early trophozoites lacked visible organellar PfSHMTc, a significant percentage of parasites showed such fluorescence during the mid-to-late trophozoite and schizont stages. In the case of the mitochondrion, the majority of parasites in these stages at any given time showed no marked PfSHMTc fluorescence, suggesting that its occupancy of this organelle is of limited duration. PfSHMTm showed a distinctly more pronounced mitochondrial location through most of the erythrocytic cycle and GFP-tagging of its N-terminal region confirmed the predicted presence of a mitochondrial signal sequence. Within the apicoplast, a majority of mitotic schizonts showed a marked concentration of PfSHMTc, whose localization in this organelle was less restricted than for the mitochondrion and persisted from the late trophozoite to the post-mitotic stages. PfSHMTm showed a broadly similar distribution across the cycle, but with a distinctive punctate accumulation towards the ends of elongating apicoplasts. In very late post-mitotic schizonts, both PfSHMTc and PfSHMTm were concentrated in the central region of the parasite that becomes the residual body on erythrocyte lysis and merozoite release.


Both PfSHMTc and PfSHMTm show dynamic, stage-dependent localization among the different compartments of the parasite and sequence analysis suggests they may also reversibly associate with each other, a factor that may be critical to folate cofactor function, given the apparent lack of enzymic activity of PfSHMTm.