Identification and characterization of the merozoite surface protein 1 (msp1) gene in a host-generalist avian malaria parasite, Plasmodium relictum (lineages SGS1 and GRW4) with the use of blood transcriptome
Background: The merozoite surface protein 1 (msp1) is one of the most studied vaccine candidate genes in mammalian Plasmodium spp. to have been used for investigations of epidemiology, population structures, and immunity to infections. However methodological difficulties have impeded the use of nuclear markers such as msp1 in Plasmodium parasites causing avian malaria. Data from an infection transcriptome of the host generalist avian malaria parasite Plasmodium relictum was used to identify and characterize the msp1 gene from two different isolates (mtDNA lineages SGS1 and GRW4). The aim was to investigate whether the msp1 gene in avian malaria species shares the properties of the msp1 gene in Plasmodium falciparum in terms of block variability, conserved anchor points and repeat motifs, and further to investigate the degree to which the gene might be informative in avian malaria parasites for population and epidemiological studies. Methods: Reads from 454 sequencing of birds infected with avian malaria was used to develop Sanger sequencing protocols for the msp1 gene of P. relictum. Genetic variability between variable and conserved blocks of the gene was compared within and between avian malaria parasite species, including P. falciparum. Genetic variability of the msp1 gene in P. relictum was compared with six other nuclear genes and the mtDNA gene cytochrome b. Results: The msp1 gene of P. relictum shares the same general pattern of variable and conserved blocks as found in P. falciparum, although the variable blocks exhibited less variability than P. falciparum. The variation across the gene blocks in P. falciparum spanned from being as conserved as within species variation in P. relictum to being as variable as between the two avian malaria species (P. relictum and Plasmodium gallinaceum) in the variable blocks. In P. relictum the highly conserved p19 region of the peptide was identified, which included two epidermal growth factor-like domains and a fully conserved GPI anchor point. Conclusion: This study provides protocols for evaluation of the msp1 gene in the avian malaria generalist parasite P. relictum. The msp1 gene in avian Plasmodium shares the genetic properties seen in P. falciparum, indicating evolutionary conserved functions for the gene. The data on the variable blocks of the gene show that the msp1 gene in P. relictum might serve as a good candidate gene for future population and epidemiological studies of the parasite.