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Open Access Research article

Quantitative trait loci mapping reveals candidate pathways regulating cell cycle duration in Plasmodium falciparum

Heather B Reilly Ayala12, Mark A Wacker2, Geoffrey Siwo2 and Michael T Ferdig2*

Author Affiliations

1 Life Sciences, Bethel College, 1001 Bethel Circle, Mishawaka, IN 46545, USA

2 Eck Institute for Global Health, Department of Biological Sciences, University of Notre Dame, Notre Dame, IN 46556, USA

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BMC Genomics 2010, 11:577  doi:10.1186/1471-2164-11-577

Published: 18 October 2010

Abstract

Background

Elevated parasite biomass in the human red blood cells can lead to increased malaria morbidity. The genes and mechanisms regulating growth and development of Plasmodium falciparum through its erythrocytic cycle are not well understood. We previously showed that strains HB3 and Dd2 diverge in their proliferation rates, and here use quantitative trait loci mapping in 34 progeny from a cross between these parent clones along with integrative bioinformatics to identify genetic loci and candidate genes that control divergences in cell cycle duration.

Results

Genetic mapping of cell cycle duration revealed a four-locus genetic model, including a major genetic effect on chromosome 12, which accounts for 75% of the inherited phenotype variation. These QTL span 165 genes, the majority of which have no predicted function based on homology. We present a method to systematically prioritize candidate genes using the extensive sequence and transcriptional information available for the parent lines. Putative functions were assigned to the prioritized genes based on protein interaction networks and expression eQTL from our earlier study. DNA metabolism or antigenic variation functional categories were enriched among our prioritized candidate genes. Genes were then analyzed to determine if they interact with cyclins or other proteins known to be involved in the regulation of cell cycle.

Conclusions

We show that the divergent proliferation rate between a drug resistant and drug sensitive parent clone is under genetic regulation and is segregating as a complex trait in 34 progeny. We map a major locus along with additional secondary effects, and use the wealth of genome data to identify key candidate genes. Of particular interest are a nucleosome assembly protein (PFL0185c), a Zinc finger transcription factor (PFL0465c) both on chromosome 12 and a ribosomal protein L7Ae-related on chromosome 4 (PFD0960c).