H3K36 methylation reprograms gene expression to drive early gametocyte development in Plasmodium falciparum

Jessica Connacher, Gabrielle A. Josling, Lindsey M. Orchard, Janette Reader, Manuel Llinás, Lyn Marié Birkholtz

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Background: The Plasmodium sexual gametocyte stages are the only transmissible form of the malaria parasite and are thus responsible for the continued transmission of the disease. Gametocytes undergo extensive functional and morphological changes from commitment to maturity, directed by an equally extensive control program. However, the processes that drive the differentiation and development of the gametocyte post-commitment, remain largely unexplored. A previous study reported enrichment of H3K36 di- and tri-methylated (H3K36me2&3) histones in early-stage gametocytes. Using chromatin immunoprecipitation followed by high-throughput sequencing, we identify a stage-specific association between these repressive histone modifications and transcriptional reprogramming that define a stage II gametocyte transition point. Results: Here, we show that H3K36me2 and H3K36me3 from stage II gametocytes are associated with repression of genes involved in asexual proliferation and sexual commitment, indicating that H3K36me2&3-mediated repression of such genes is essential to the transition from early gametocyte differentiation to intermediate development. Importantly, we show that the gene encoding the transcription factor AP2-G as commitment master regulator is enriched with H3K36me2&3 and actively repressed in stage II gametocytes, providing the first evidence of ap2-g gene repression in post-commitment gametocytes. Lastly, we associate the enhanced potency of the pan-selective Jumonji inhibitor JIB-04 in gametocytes with the inhibition of histone demethylation including H3K36me2&3 and a disruption of normal transcriptional programs. Conclusions: Taken together, our results provide the first description of an association between global gene expression reprogramming and histone post-translational modifications during P. falciparum early sexual development. The stage II gametocyte-specific abundance of H3K36me2&3 manifests predominantly as an independent regulatory mechanism targeted towards genes that are repressed post-commitment. H3K36me2&3-associated repression of genes is therefore involved in key transcriptional shifts that accompany the transition from early gametocyte differentiation to intermediate development.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Article number19
JournalEpigenetics and Chromatin
Issue number1
StatePublished - Dec 2021

All Science Journal Classification (ASJC) codes

  • Molecular Biology
  • Genetics

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