The RNA structurome in the asexual blood stages of malaria pathogen plasmodium falciparum

Diana Renteria Alvarez, Alejandra Ospina, Tiffany Barwell, Bo Zheng, Abhishek Dey, Chong Li, Shrabani Basu, Xinghua Shi, Sabah Kadri, Kausik Chakrabarti*

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

5 Scopus citations


Plasmodium falciparum is a deadly human pathogen responsible for the devastating disease called malaria. In this study, we measured the differential accumulation of RNA secondary structures in coding and non-coding transcripts from the asexual developmental cycle in P. falciparum in human red blood cells. Our comprehensive analysis that combined high-throughput nuclease mapping of RNA structures by duplex RNA-seq, SHAPE-directed RNA structure validation, immunoaffinity purification and characterization of antisense RNAs collectively measured differentially base-paired RNA regions throughout the parasite’s asexual RBC cycle. Our mapping data not only aligned to a diverse pool of RNAs with known structures but also enabled us to identify new structural RNA regions in the malaria genome. On average, approximately 71% of the genes with secondary structures are found to be protein coding mRNAs. The mapping pattern of these base-paired RNAs corresponded to all regions of mRNAs, including the 5ʹ UTR, CDS and 3ʹ UTR as well as the start and stop codons. Histone family genes which are known to form secondary structures in their mRNAs and transcripts from genes which are important for transcriptional and post-transcriptional control, such as the unique plant-like transcription factor family, ApiAP2, DNA-/RNA-binding protein, Alba3 and proteins important for RBC invasion and malaria cytoadherence also showed strong accumulation of duplex RNA reads in various asexual stages in P. falciparum. Intriguingly, our study determined stage-specific, dynamic relationships between mRNA structural contents and translation efficiency in P. falciparum asexual blood stages, suggesting an essential role of RNA structural changes in malaria gene expression programs. Abbreviations: CDS: Coding Sequence; DNA: Deoxyribonucleic Acid; dsRNA: double-stranded RNA; IDC: Intra-erythrocytic Developmental Cycle (IDC); m6A: N6-methyladenosine; mRNA: Messenger RNA; ncRNA: Non-coding RNA; RBC: Red Blood cells; RBP: RNA-Binding Protein; REC: Relative Expression Counts; RNA-seq: RNA-sequencing; RNA: Ribonucleic Acid; RNP: Ribonucleoprotein; RPKM: Reads Per Kilobase of transcript Per Million; rRNA: Ribosomal RNA 16. RUFs: RNAs of Unknown Function; SHAPE: Selective 2’-hydroxyl acylation analysed by primer extension; snoRNA: Small Nucleolar RNA; snRNA: Small Nuclear RNA; SRP-RNA: Signal Recognition Particle RNA; ssRNA: (Single-stranded RNA); TE: Translation Efficiency; tRNA: transfer RNA; UTR: Untranslated Region.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)2480-2497
Number of pages18
JournalRNA biology
Issue number12
StatePublished - 2021


  • Genome-wide
  • RNA folding
  • RNA secondary structure
  • RNA structurome
  • RNA-shape
  • mRNA
  • malaria
  • plasmodium falciparum
  • translation

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Molecular Biology
  • Cell Biology


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