Antisense long noncoding RNAs regulate var gene activation in the malaria parasite Plasmodium falciparum

Inbar Amit-Avraham, Guy Pozner, Shiri Eshar, Yair Fastman, Netanel Kolevzon, Eylon Yavin, Ron Dzikowski*

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

118 Scopus citations

Abstract

The virulence of Plasmodium falciparum, the causative agent of the deadliest form of human malaria, is attributed to its ability to evade human immunity through antigenic variation. These parasites alternate between expression ofvariable antigens, encoded by members of a multicopy gene family named var. Immune evasion through antigenic variation depends on tight regulation of var gene expression, ensuring that only a single var gene is expressed at a time while the rest of the family is maintained transcriptionally silent. Understanding how a single gene is chosen for activation is critical for understanding mutually exclusive expression but remains a mystery. Here, we show that antisense long noncoding RNAs (lncRNAs) initiating from var introns are associated with the single active var gene at the time in the cell cycle when the single var upstream promoter is active. We demonstrate that these antisense transcripts are incorporated into chromatin, and that expression of these antisense lncRNAs in trans triggers activation of a silent var gene in a sequence- and dose-dependent manner. On the other hand, interference with these lncRNAs using complement peptide nucleic acid molecules down-regulated the active var gene, erased the epigenetic memory, and induced expression switching. Altogether, our data provide evidence that these antisense lncRNAs play a key role in regulating var gene activation and mutually exclusive expression.

Original languageAmerican English
Pages (from-to)E982-E991
JournalProceedings of the National Academy of Sciences of the United States of America
Volume112
Issue number9
DOIs
StatePublished - 3 Mar 2015

Keywords

  • Exclusive expression
  • Malaria
  • Noncoding RNA
  • Plasmodium falciparum
  • Var genes

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