An Integrated Approach to Unravelling Malaria Cell Signalling Pathways
thesisposted on 07.02.2013, 10:38 by Michele Graciotti
In the current thesis we analyse protein phosphorylation pathways in P. falciparum, the protozoa responsible for the most virulent form of malaria in order to both understand the role and scope of this protein modification in the parasite, and to explore its feasibility as a new drug target. With the aim to map phosphorylation pathways controlled by P. falciparum Casein Kinase 2 (PfCK2), we developed a new chemical-biological approach based on γ-modified ATP analogues bearing reporting groups on the transferred phosphate in order to selectively tag CK2 substrates. Despite being able to efficiently synthesise a small set of analogues, the data presented here shows that the P-N linkage bond between the nucleotide and the tag is stable during the assay conditions but not during the product analysis due to its acidic liability (e.g. with HPLC, MALDI); suggesting that a different type of linkage should be chosen in the future. Detailed characterisation studies of the parasite PfCK2 presented here showed a number of important features differing from human CK2. Docking analyses with a CK2 inhibitor showed that the PfCK2 ATP binding pocket is smaller than human CK2 due to the presence of Val116 and Leu45 which in the human kinase are replaced by more bulky isoleucine residues: Ile120 and Ile49. The difference between the human and parasite CK2 orthologues extends further to mechanisms of activation and regulation. Shown here is the autophosphorylation of PfCK2 that, unlike the human orthologue, occurs within subdomain I at Thr63. This autophosphorylation is essential for full catalytic activity. In addition we also showed that Thr63 phosphorylation regulates the interaction between the calalytic α-subunit and the regulatory β2-subunit. Here, we also presented evidence for tyrosine phosphorylated proteins in parasite infected red blood cells. PfCK2 can act as a dual specificity kinase phosphorylating P. falciparum Minichromosome Maintenance protein 2 (PfMCM2) on Tyr16 in vitro. It is therefore possible that PfCK2 may contribute to tyrosine phosphorylation within the parasite. Finally, we also reported a study regarding MCM2-Ser13 phosphorylation which successfully identified PfCK1 as the kinase responsible for this event.