The mitochondrion of malaria parasites contains several clinically validated drug targets. Within Plasmodium spp., the causative agents of malaria, the mitochondrial DNA (mtDNA) is only 6 kb long, being the smallest mitochondrial genome among all eukaryotes. The mtDNA encodes only three proteins of the mitochondrial electron transport chain and -27 small, fragmented rRNA genes having lengths of 22-195 nucleotides. The rRNA fragments are thought to form a mitochondrial ribosome (mitoribosome), together with ribosomal proteins imported from the cytosol. The mitoribosome of Plasmodium falciparum is essential for maintenance of the mitochondrial membrane potential and parasite viability. However, the role of the mitoribosome in sustaining the metabolic status of the parasite mitochondrion remains unclear. The small ribosomal subunit in P. falciparum has 14 annotated mitoribosomal proteins, and employing a CRISPR/Cas9-based conditional knockdown tool, here we verified the location and tested the essentiality of three candidates (PfmtRPS12, PfmtRPS17, and PfmtRPS18). Using immuno-EM, we provide evidence that the P. falciparum mitoribosome is closely associated with the mitochondrial inner membrane. Upon knockdown of the mitoribosome, parasites became hypersensitive to inhibitors targeting mitochondrial Complex III (bc1), dihydroorotate dehydrogenase (DHOD), and the F1F0-ATP synthase complex. Furthermore, the mitoribosome knockdown blocked the pyrimidine biosynthesis pathway and reduced the cellular pool of pyrimidine nucleotides. These results suggest that disruption of the P. falciparum mitoribosome compromises the metabolic capacity of the mitochondrion, rendering the parasite hypersensitive to a panel of inhibitors that target mitochondrial functions.
All Science Journal Classification (ASJC) codes
- Molecular Biology
- Cell Biology