Molecular mechanisms of parasite motility

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A red cartoon representation of an actin monomer and a b/w surface view of an actin filament on a yellow background of negatively stained actin filaments.

Molecular mechanisms of parasite motility

Malaria is one of the world's most devastating infectious diseases. Each year, nearly half a million people die of malaria. The disease is caused by Plasmodium spp., which comprise a group of unicellular, eukaryotic, intracellular parasites, belonging to the phylum Apicomplexa. They use an actomyosin motor complex, termed glideosome, for rapid gliding motility and host cell invasion. The motor components are to a large extent unique to these parasites or highly diverged from the corresponding human proteins. Parasite actin filaments are short, and their rapid treadmilling is regulated by an unusually small number of actin-binding proteins.

Our work is focused on understanding malaria parasite gliding motility and the molecular machinery behind at the molecular/atomic level. A broad range of structural biology and biochemical/biophysical methods is used for this aim.

Our work is aimed at a mechanistic understanding of gliding motility, which malaria parasites and their relatives use for getting to and invading their host cells. We employ a broad range of biochemical, biophysical and hybrid structural biology methods for creating a complete molecular picture of the parasite actin-myosin motor and the entire glideosome. We also want to understand the evolution of apicomplexan gliding motility and eukaryotic actin-myosin motors in a broader sense. Understanding the mechanistic differences in cell motility between parasites and humans may, furthermore, open up new avenues for treatment and/or prevention of malaria.

We have determined atomic structures of malaria parasite actins in both monomeric and filamentous form and characterized their polymerization properties as well as nearly all the parasite actin-binding proteins known to date. Our future work is directed more towards larger complexes and reconstructing the entire parasite glideosome for structural and functional characterization.

My research group is divided between the Faculty of Biochemistry and Molecular Medicine at the University of Oulu, Finland, and the Department of Biomedicine, University of Bergen, Norway.

New PhD
Devaki with her opponent and custos

Devaki defended her PhD

On Tuesday August 15th, Devaki defended her PhD at the University of Oulu. The opponent was Associate Professor Beáta Bugyi from the University of Pécs Medical School, Pécs, Hungary. We all very much enjoyed an insightful discussion on actins, actin depolymerizing factors, and their roles in the...

New post doc
Dr. Stanley Makumire in the lab

Welcome to the group, Stanley!

This month, Dr. Stanley Makumire joined our group as a post-doctoral fellow. We look forward to working together in the coming years!

Positive funding decisions
JAES logo

Sizeable funding for our work

The second excellent news of the day was that Jane and Aatos Erkko foundation in Finland has decided to support our work with a whole 842000 € in the next three years. This decision could not have been more welcome and secures the continuation of our work. I am utmost grateful to Jane and Aatos...

paper in press
Paper title page

Henni's paper accepted in PLoS Biology

Today brought some pretty awesome news. The first came in the wee hours, telling that Henni's collaborative paper with Maddy Dans from the lab of Paul Gilson from the Burnet Institute (and a number of other collaborators) was accepted for publication in PLoS Biology. Looking forward to see this...

Positive funding decisions
foundations' logos

Continued support from Meltzer foundation and UiB General Medical Fund

Last week, we got two small positive funding decisions, as we got consumable and travel money both from the Meltzer Foundation (100000 NOK) and the UiB General Medical Fund (76720 NOK). Many thanks for both foundations for continuing to support our work!

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