Background: Malaria pathogenesis relies on sexual gametocyte forms of the malaria parasite to be transmitted between the infected human and the mosquito host but the molecular mechanisms controlling gametocytogenesis remains poorly understood. Here we provide a high-resolution transcriptome of Plasmodium falciparum as it commits to and develops through gametocytogenesis. Results: The gametocyte-associated transcriptome is significantly different from that of the asexual parasites, with dynamic gene expression shifts characterizing early, intermediate and late-stage gametocyte development and results in differential timing for sex-specific transcripts. The transcriptional dynamics suggest strict transcriptional control during gametocytogenesis in P. falciparum, which we propose is mediated by putative regulators including epigenetic mechanisms (driving active repression of proliferation-associated processes) and a cascade-like expression of ApiAP2 transcription factors. Conclusions: The gametocyte transcriptome serves as the blueprint for sexual differentiation and will be a rich resource for future functional studies on this critical stage of Plasmodium development, as the intraerythrocytic transcriptome has been for our understanding of the asexual cycle.
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