Genetics of antigenic variation in Plasmodium falciparum

Ron Dzikowski, Kirk W. Deitsch*

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalReview articlepeer-review

49 Scopus citations


Malaria caused by the protozoan parasite Plasmodium falciparum is characterized by long-term, persistent infections that can last for many months. The ability of this parasite to avoid clearance by the human immune system is dependent on its capacity to continuously alter the surface exposed antigenic proteins that that are vulnerable to antibody recognition and attack, a process called antigenic variation. Significant work in recent years has contributed to our understanding of the mechanisms underlying this process, including the genes encoding the antigenic proteins and the DNA sequence elements that control their expression. In addition, the epigenetic "marks" that are associated with activation and silencing of individual genes have been extensively characterized. These studies have led to a model that includes multiple layers of regulation that ultimately lead to the tight coordination of expression of the genes responsible for antigenic variation by malaria parasites. Here we review some more recent data that adds additional complexity to our understanding of these regulatory layers.

Original languageAmerican English
Pages (from-to)103-110
Number of pages8
JournalCurrent Genetics
Issue number2
StatePublished - 2009

Bibliographical note

Funding Information:
Acknowledgments The authors thank Ira Pasternak for his contributions to the graphic design of Fig. 1. The Department of Microbiology and Immunology at Weill Medical College of Cornell University acknowledges the support of the William Randolph Hearst Foundation. KWD is a Stavros S. Niarchos Scholar and is supported by National Institutes of Health grant AI 52390. RD is a Golda Meir Scholar and supported by the Marie Curie International Reintegration Grant (IRG) [203675] and the German Israeli Foundation [2163-1725.11/2006]. KWD and RD are supported by grant No. 2007350 from the United States-Israel Binational Science Foundation.


  • Chromatin
  • Epigenetic memory
  • Gene regulation
  • Malaria
  • Nuclear organization
  • Transcription


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