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This article is part of the supplement: The 2010 International Conference on Bioinformatics and Computational Biology (BIOCOMP 2010): Genomics

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Protease-associated cellular networks in malaria parasite Plasmodium falciparum

Timothy G Lilburn1, Hong Cai2, Zhan Zhou23 and Yufeng Wang24*

Author Affiliations

1 Department of Bacteriology, American Type Culture Collection, Manassas, VA 20110, USA

2 Department of Biology, University of Texas at San Antonio, San Antonio, TX 78249, USA

3 College of Life Sciences, Zhejiang University, Hangzhou 310058, PR China

4 South Texas Center for Emerging Infectious Diseases, University of Texas at San Antonio, San Antonio, TX 78249, USA

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BMC Genomics 2011, 12(Suppl 5):S9  doi:10.1186/1471-2164-12-S5-S9

Published: 23 December 2011



Malaria continues to be one of the most severe global infectious diseases, responsible for 1-2 million deaths yearly. The rapid evolution and spread of drug resistance in parasites has led to an urgent need for the development of novel antimalarial targets. Proteases are a group of enzymes that play essential roles in parasite growth and invasion. The possibility of designing specific inhibitors for proteases makes them promising drug targets. Previously, combining a comparative genomics approach and a machine learning approach, we identified the complement of proteases (degradome) in the malaria parasite Plasmodium falciparum and its sibling species [1-3], providing a catalog of targets for functional characterization and rational inhibitor design. Network analysis represents another route to revealing the role of proteins in the biology of parasites and we use this approach here to expand our understanding of the systems involving the proteases of P. falciparum.


We investigated the roles of proteases in the parasite life cycle by constructing a network using protein-protein association data from the STRING database [4], and analyzing these data, in conjunction with the data from protein-protein interaction assays using the yeast 2-hybrid (Y2H) system [5], blood stage microarray experiments [6-8], proteomics [9-12], literature text mining, and sequence homology analysis. Seventy-seven (77) out of 124 predicted proteases were associated with at least one other protein, constituting 2,431 protein-protein interactions (PPIs). These proteases appear to play diverse roles in metabolism, cell cycle regulation, invasion and infection. Their degrees of connectivity (i.e., connections to other proteins), range from one to 143. The largest protease-associated sub-network is the ubiquitin-proteasome system which is crucial for protein recycling and stress response. Proteases are also implicated in heat shock response, signal peptide processing, cell cycle progression, transcriptional regulation, and signal transduction networks.


Our network analysis of proteases from P. falciparum uses a so-called guilt-by-association approach to extract sets of proteins from the proteome that are candidates for further study. Novel protease targets and previously unrecognized members of the protease-associated sub-systems provide new insights into the mechanisms underlying parasitism, pathogenesis and virulence.