Quantitative Proteomics of the Human Malaria Parasite, Plasmodium falciparum, Applied to Folate Biosynthetic Enzymes.

  • Paul Southworth

Student thesis: Phd


Human malaria caused by Plasmodium falciparum is a major global burden killing between 700,000 and 2.7 million people every year. Africa bears the greatest portion of this burden, with over three quarters of deaths occurring in African children, accounting for 18% of all child deaths in sub-Saharan Africa. Synthesis of tetrahydrofolate through the folate biosynthetic pathway is vital for the survival of P. falciparum parasites and is lacking in the human host. As such, enzymes of this pathway have long presented attractive targets for drug therapy and although increasingly being compromised by resistance, anti-folates such as pyrimethamine and sulfadoxine are still very valuable drugs in many malaria-endemic regions.In this project, further investigation of the enzymes of the folate biosynthetic pathway has been attempted by developing protocols to quantify these proteins and others through proteomic techniques. Two quantification techniques were pursued. The first was quantification using whole, heterologously expressed, stable-isotope labelled forms of P. falciparum proteins for use as heavy standards in mass spectrometry. Great difficulty was experienced in the effort to express and purify P. falciparum enzymes in E. coli expression systems, with only one enzyme successfully expressed and purified in a 13C-labelled form. This one protein was taken forward into quantification experiments. The second quantification technique used a stable-isotope labelled 'QConcat' protein, consisting of a number of peptides from 12 P. falciparum proteins of interest, as a heavy standard in mass spectrometry. This was successfully expressed and purified in a 13C-labelled form from an artificial gene using an E. coli expression system. This too was taken forward into quantification experiments.Quantification experiments using the QConcat-based quantification technique were successfully performed on whole P. falciparum extract. Among the proteins quantified were SHMT and DHFR, two proteins of great interest from the folate biosynthetic pathway. Consistent with results from different expression analysis techniques in the literature, the folate enzymes were found to be of lower abundance than housekeeping enzymes and SHMT was found to be more abundant than DHFR.For deep quantitative analysis of the P. falciparum proteome, it was found that fractionation was necessary. Fractionation in this project was performed using a ZOOM IEF fractionator (Invitrogen), an OFFGEL IEF fractionator (Agilent) and 1D SDS-PAGE. It was found that by using these fractionation techniques, more proteins could be identified within the P. falciparum proteome, with all but one of the enzymes of the folate biosynthetic pathway being identified. Significant advances in the sensitivity of mass spectrometers during this project have also greatly facilitated the investigation of the proteome. In some cases, this meant that proteins which were only previously accessible by prefractionation of the proteome could be seen in whole P. falciparum extract. Unfortunately, QConcat-based quantification using both fractionation and sensitive mass spectrometry could not be successfully achieved in the time available. However, the promising results obtained suggest that, after careful optimisation, such an approach will be valuable.
Date of Award1 Aug 2011
Original languageEnglish
Awarding Institution
  • The University of Manchester
SupervisorPaul Sims (Supervisor)


  • Malaria
  • Plasmodium falciparum
  • Folates
  • Proteomics

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