Phosphorylation of the Canonical Histone H2A Marks Foci of Damaged DNA in Malaria Parasites

Manish Goyal, Adina Heinberg, Vera Mitesser, Sofiya Kandelis-Shalev, Brajesh Kumar Singh, Ron Dzikowski*

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

5 Scopus citations


Plasmodium falciparum parasites proliferate within circulating red blood cells and are responsible for the deadliest form of human malaria. These parasites are exposed to numerous intrinsic and external sources that could cause DNA damage; therefore, they have evolved efficient mechanisms to protect their genome integrity and allow them to proliferate under such conditions. In higher eukaryotes, double-strand breaks rapidly lead to phosphorylation of the core histone variant H2A.X, which marks the site of damaged DNA. We show that in P. falciparum that lacks the H2A.X variant, the canonical P. falciparum H2A (PfH2A) is phosphorylated on serine 121 upon exposure to sources of DNA damage. We further demonstrate that phosphorylated PfH2A is recruited to foci of damaged chromatin shortly after exposure to sources of damage, while the nonphosphorylated PfH2A remains spread throughout the nucleoplasm. In addition, we found that PfH2A phosphorylation is dynamic and that over time, as the parasite activates the repair machinery, this phosphorylation is removed. Finally, we demonstrate that these phosphorylation dynamics could be used to establish a novel and direct DNA repair assay in P. falciparum. IMPORTANCE Plasmodium falciparum is the deadliest human parasite that causes malaria when it reaches the bloodstream and begins proliferating inside red blood cells, where the parasites are particularly prone to DNA damage. The molecular mechanisms that allow these pathogens to maintain their genome integrity under such conditions are also the driving force for acquiring genome plasticity that enables them to create anti-genic variation and become resistant to essentially all available drugs. However, mechanisms of DNA damage response and repair have not been extensively studied for these parasites. The paper addresses our recent discovery that P. falciparum that lacks the his-tone variant H2A.X phosphorylates its canonical core histone PfH2A in response to exposure to DNA damage. The process of DNA repair in Plasmodium was mostly studied indirectly. Our findings enabled us to establish a direct DNA repair assay for P. falcipa-rum similar to assays that are widely used in model organisms.

Original languageAmerican English
Article numbere01131-20
Issue number1
StatePublished - 13 Jan 2021

Bibliographical note

Publisher Copyright:
© 2021. Goyal et al. This is an openaccess article distributed under the terms of the Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 International license. All Rights Reserved.


  • DNA damage
  • DNA repair
  • H2A phosphorylation
  • Plasmodium falciparum
  • double-strand break
  • malaria


Dive into the research topics of 'Phosphorylation of the Canonical Histone H2A Marks Foci of Damaged DNA in Malaria Parasites'. Together they form a unique fingerprint.

Cite this