The nature and extent of glycosylation in Plasmodium falciparum has long been controversial. It has been widely believed that O-glycosylation is the major carbohydrate modification in the intraerythrocytic stage of P. falciparum and that the parasite has no N-glycosylation capacity. Contrary to this, recent studies have demonstrated that P. falciparum has a low N- glycosylation capability, and O-glycosylation is either absent or present at an extremely low level, whereas glycosylphosphatidylinositol (GPI) anchor modification is common and is the major carbohydrate modification in parasite proteins. The GPI anchor moieties are essential for parasite survival. The parasite GPI anchors can activate signaling pathways in host cells, and thereby induce the expression of inflammatory cytokines, adhesion molecules and induced nitric oxide synthase (iNOS). This might cause erythrocyte sequestration, hypoglycemia, triglyceride lipogenesis and immune dysregulation. Thus, the parasite GPI anchor structure and biosynthetic pathways are attractive targets for antimalarial and/or antiparasite drug development, as discussed here by Channe Gowda and Eugene Davidson.
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