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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 student
Picture of Kalyani

Welcome to the group, Kalyani!

Today, Kalyani Mukherjee joined our group as a PhD student, funded by a stipend by the Sigrid Jusélius foundation.

New PhD
Custos, PhD candidate, and opponent

Isa defended her PhD - congratulations Dr. Pires!

On Wednesday June 1st, Isa defended her PhD at the University of Oulu. The opponent was Professor Alf Månsson from the Linnaeus University, Kalmar, Sweden. We all could enjoy an interesting dialogue on myosins and motility, and Isa rocked all the way. Thanks to everyone involved and huge...

preprint
QR code to the preprint

Check out our latest myosin work!

Isa's work on Plasmodium falciparum myosin B is out on the preprint server bioRxiv - just in time for her PhD defense. Hopefully soon in peer-reviewed form too.

Upcoming PhD defense
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The countdown is on...

One week to go to Isa's PhD defense!

New leaf in the Tree of Science
PhD thesis hanging in the Tree of Science

Isa hung her PhD thesis in the Tree of Science!

We have a new PhD thesis hanging out for public display in the Tree of Science at the FBMM, University of Oulu. On June 1st, Isa will defend her thesis "Structural and functional studies on Plasmodium actin-myosin class XIV motors". The opponent will be Professor Alf Månsson from the Linnaeus...

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