Browse Subject Areas

Click through the PLOS taxonomy to find articles in your field.

For more information about PLOS Subject Areas, click here.

  • Loading metrics

Imperfect Duplicate Insertions Type of Mutations in Plasmepsin V Modulates Binding Properties of PEXEL Motifs of Export Proteins in Indian Plasmodium vivax

  • Manmeet Rawat,

    Affiliations Protein Biochemistry and Structural Biology Division, National Institute of Malaria Research (ICMR), Dwarka, New Delhi, India, Department of Internal Medicine, University of New Mexico School of Medicine, Albuquerque, New Mexico, United States of America

  • Sonam Vijay,

    Affiliation Protein Biochemistry and Structural Biology Division, National Institute of Malaria Research (ICMR), Dwarka, New Delhi, India

  • Yash Gupta,

    Affiliation Department of Microbiology and Molecular Biology, National JALMA Institute for Leprosy and Other Mycobacterial Diseases (ICMR), Agra, Uttar Pradesh, India

  • Pramod Kumar Tiwari,

    Affiliation Centre for Genomics, Molecular and Human Genetics, Jiwaji University, Gwalior, Madhya Pradesh, India

  • Arun Sharma

    Affiliation Protein Biochemistry and Structural Biology Division, National Institute of Malaria Research (ICMR), Dwarka, New Delhi, India

Imperfect Duplicate Insertions Type of Mutations in Plasmepsin V Modulates Binding Properties of PEXEL Motifs of Export Proteins in Indian Plasmodium vivax

  • Manmeet Rawat, 
  • Sonam Vijay, 
  • Yash Gupta, 
  • Pramod Kumar Tiwari, 
  • Arun Sharma



Plasmepsin V (PM-V) have functionally conserved orthologues across the Plasmodium genus who's binding and antigenic processing at the PEXEL motifs for export about 200–300 essential proteins is important for the virulence and viability of the causative Plasmodium species. This study was undertaken to determine P. vivax plasmepsin V Ind (PvPM-V-Ind) PEXEL motif export pathway for pathogenicity-related proteins/antigens export thereby altering plasmodium exportome during erythrocytic stages.


We identify and characterize Plasmodium vivax plasmepsin-V-Ind (mutant) gene by cloning, sequence analysis, in silico bioinformatic protocols and structural modeling predictions based on docking studies on binding capacity with PEXEL motifs processing in terms of binding and accessibility of export proteins.


Cloning and sequence analysis for genetic diversity demonstrates PvPM-V-Ind (mutant) gene is highly conserved among all isolates from different geographical regions of India. Imperfect duplicate insertion types of mutations (SVSE from 246–249 AA and SLSE from 266–269 AA) were identified among all Indian isolates in comparison to P.vivax Sal-1 (PvPM-V-Sal 1) isolate. In silico bioinformatics interaction studies of PEXEL peptide and active enzyme reveal that PvPM-V-Ind (mutant) is only active in endoplasmic reticulum lumen and membrane embedding is essential for activation of plasmepsin V. Structural modeling predictions based on docking studies with PEXEL motif show significant variation in substrate protein binding of these imperfect mutations with data mined PEXEL sequences. The predicted variation in the docking score and interacting amino acids of PvPM-V-Ind (mutant) proteins with PEXEL and lopinavir suggests a modulation in the activity of PvPM-V in terms of binding and accessibility at these sites.


Our functional modeled validation of PvPM-V-Ind (mutant) imperfect duplicate insertions with data mined PEXEL sequences leading to altered binding and substrate accessibility of the enzyme makes it a plausible target to investigate export mechanisms for in silico virtual screening and novel pharmacophore designing.


Malaria, a global parasitic disease, caused by Plasmodium species, affects approximately 500 million people throughout the tropical and subtropical countries and causes considerable morbidity and mortality with estimated 800,000 deaths worldwide each year [1]. Plasmodium falciparum and Plasmodium vivax are considered as the two important human malaria parasites. Plasmodium falciparum, a virulent form of malaria, is responsible for 1 to 2 million deaths annually, mostly in children under the age of 5 years. Plasmodium vivax is responsible for 50–60% of all malaria cases in Western pacific and South East Asian countries of which India is a major contributor to this burden [2], [3]. Although, in comparison of P. falciparum the deaths due to P. vivax are rare, however socioeconomic impact of P. vivax malaria is enormous [4] and several recent reports recognized P. vivax induced malaria as a severe and fatal malaria [5][9]. Furthermore, in light of the emergence of chloroquine and multidrug resistance in P.vivax malaria [5], [10] and emergence of P. vivax strains with lower sensitivity to recent antimalarial therapy [11] there is an urgent need to develop a control strategy to identify new targets for human malaria parasite Plasmodium vivax.

The manifestation of malaria is heavily linked to the growth and development of the virulent form of Plasmodium inside the infected erythrocytes. In order to overcome the host responses, Plasmodium remodels red blood cell architecture and machinery, allowing the export of hundreds of effector proteins beyond the parasitophorous vacuole membrane (PVM) [8][14]. Among the variety of Plasmodium effector enzymes, the family of aspartic proteases (plasmepsins) plays a key role in a wide variety of cellular processes including the export of plasmodium proteins which are essential for malaria parasite growth/survival and have been considered as promising targets for the development of novel chemotherapeutics [15][19].

The primary analysis of Plasmodium falciparum genome has led to the identification of at least 10 members of aspartic proteases (plasmepsins) family of proteins [18]. In contrast to P. falciparum, P. vivax genome sequence database analyses have shown that P. vivax has 7 orthologues of plasmepsins, PfPM-IV–PfPM-X [20][21]. Although similar to the P. falciparum, plasmepsins of P. vivax have also been considered as most promising anti-malarial drug targets, however because of the lack of in vitro culture system, the relative role of plasmepsins has not been yet fully examined in P. vivax. In this context, we have recently examined the structural properties and conservation of PvPM-IV in P. vivax from Indian isolates [22].

Unlike other plasmepsins, plasmepsin V, IX and X are not located in the food vacuole and plasmepsin-V is a unique and highly specialized aspartic protease with specific localization and function [14]. Fractional and solubilization experiments have demonstrated that plasmepsin-V is an integral membrane protein and it is distinct from those previously characterized plasmepsins. Plasmepsin-V is believed to be involved in the processing of the PEXEL motif (Plasmodium Export Element) and is essential for protein/antigen export [23]. PEXEL, a conserved and short N-terminal amino acid motif, when cleaved and acetylated in the endoplasmic reticulum translocates proteins into the host cells [13], [24], [ and 25]. Recent studies suggest that PfPM-V is a PEXEL protease, which could be a unique antimalarial drug target against P. falciparum infection. However, in case of P. vivax, such studies on the PvPM-V are limited and need attention to examine the genetic, structural and functional properties.

In this study, we examined genetic polymorphism, molecular nature and structural properties of P. vivax PvPM-V gene isolated from different geographical regions of India in order to determine if this export pathway are conserved in Plasmodium vivax. We performed an extensive in silico analysis to compare substrate binding with data mined PEXEL sequences from P. vivax exported proteins in order to develop an experimental system for studying functional modeled validation of these export processes to understand underlying effect of mutations on the activation of enzyme in ER without N- terminal processing as reported previously [14], [26]. Our molecular and in silico studies add support for conservation of export pathway in P. vivax and predict a new putative plausible mechanism of immune evasion by P. vivax. Our results show that a variation in antigenic processing might be a key for emergence of more virulent type strains of P. vivax as differential antigen profile is known to be involved in immune evasion. PvPM-V based functional prediction data provides new insights into the design of new chemotherapeutic agents and diagnostic markers against malaria vivax infection.

Materials and Methods

Study Design

The study was carried out on P.vivax samples from different geographical regions of India to evaluate a plausible role of PvPM-V-Ind gene in genetic, structural and functional terms. This study was performed in three sequential steps namely molecular (genetic diversity and phylogenetic analysis), in silico structural analysis, PEXEL motif selection and docking studies with known inhibitors.

The study was conducted under the protocol reviewed and approved by the Institutional Scientific Advisory Committee (SAC) and Institutional Human Ethical Committee. Written informed consent was obtained from all the volunteers prior to the collection of P. vivax positive blood samples and human subject's guidelines were followed. This manuscript is approved by Institutional publication committee having approval number 019/2012.

Study area and patient selection

The present study was conducted in seven different geographical regions of India having different topographical habitats viz. Bangalore, Chennai, Delhi, Goa, Nadiad, Rourkela and Sonapur as depicted in our earlier report [22]. The Centers selected for the study also had different international exposure i.e. Delhi, Chennai & Bangalore being urban commercial centers, Goa an international tourist destination and Nadiad, Rourkela & Sonapur sub-urban cities with low migratory population flux. P. vivax-infected patients, who were willing to participate and fitted the enrolment criteria [22] as per our earlier report, were included in this study as per WHO protocol [27].

P. vivax sample collection

P. vivax +ve blood samples were collected from patients (either sex) who were visiting NIMR Malaria Clinics in seven different geographical regions of India as described in our earlier report [22]. Briefly, the blood samples were screened microscopically (thick and thin smears) for the presence of P. vivax +ve malaria. 2–3 drops of finger prick blood from the patients having a minimum parasitaemia (0.05 to 0.5%) were collected on 3-mm filter paper (Whatman International Ltd., Maidstone, UK) as per our earlier report [22].

DNA isolation and PCR amplification

P. vivax genomic DNA was extracted from the blood samples collected on filter paper using the QIAamp DNA Blood Mini Kit (Qiagen, Hilden, Germany). For PCR amplification, a set of PvPM-V gene specific primers of PvPM-V (5′-ATGGTCGGAGCGAGCTTGGGGCCCCCCGGT-3′ and (5′-CTACGCATCCGCGGGCGCCTTGCCCTCGGAGG-3′), were used [28] to amplify a complete gene sequence. Furthermore, another pair of specific primers targeting specific smaller segment of gene were also designed i.e. PvPM-V-5.2 (5′-GGGCGTATTGGGGATGAGTCTTTC-3′ & 5′-CGTTCGTCATCTTCAATCGCTTAT-3′). The PCR products were resolved on a 1% agarose gel.

Cloning of PvPM-V gene and sequencing

PvPM-V-Ind PCR amplified products were gel-purified by using QIAquick Gel Extraction Kit (Qiagen, Hilden, Germany), ligated into the P derived cloning vector (Qiagen, Hilden, Germany) and transformed into competent E. coli DH5α cells as per the manufacturer's recommended protocol. Positive recombinant clones were sequenced in both directions on an ABI 3730 Genetic Analyzer (PE Applied Biosystems). For sequence validation, two independent sequencing reactions of each clone were performed.

Sequence homology and Phylogenetic analysis

All nucleotide sequences of P. vivax PvPM-V-Ind isolates encoding each gene were submitted to NCBI GenBank (accession numbers GU569930 to GU569935) for public domain use. The verified sequences were translated to amino acid and aligned with PvPM-V of different regions of India to mark functional domain region. The translated protein sequences of PvPM-V-Ind were searched using the InterProScan software to identify signatures and their topology from the InterPro member databases; Pfam, PROSITE, PRINTS, ProDom, SMART, TIGRFAMs, PIRSF, SUPERFAMILY, Gene3D, and PANTHER [29][30].

Orthologues of plasmepsin-V were searched on KEGG-SSDB server ( in various genomes and EuPathDB Bioinformatics Resource Center ( All Plasmodium plasmepsin-V sequences were aligned and phylogenetic tree was created to visualize gene evolution in relation to various genomes. Various orthologous of plasmepsin-V were aligned using CLUSTALW and bootstrap phylogenetic tree was generated using Unipro UGENE: Integrated Bioinformatics Tools ( To analyze the evolutionary direction Indian isolate sequences and Sal I reference sequences were submitted to SPRING server ( [31].

In silico Molecular modeling

All sequences were modeled for 3-dimensional structure at I-TASSER server ( which is based on multiple-threading alignments by LOMETS and iterative TASSER simulations [32][33]. Structures were further analyzed using VMD software (University of Illinois) [34][35] and were selected on the basis of RMSD values and less than 1% deviation from Ramachandran Plot. The modeled structures were superimposed using VMD software and their active sites and over all changes were visualized. The structural models have been submitted to Protein Model Data Base (PMDB) for public domain use. The structural models can be accessed at PMDB through the given id i.e. PvPM-V-Ind (mutant) - PM0078211 & PM0077433, PvPM-V- Sal-1(wild) - PM0078212 & PM0077434.

PEXEL motif selection by data mining

Various P. falciparum genes whose proteins are known to be exported during erythrocytic stages were used to homology search against PvPM-V-Ind in P vivax genome at server All genes were then subjected to complex pattern search employing 3of5 server ( [36] using two separate pattern searches with formulae {[KR][GAVLIMFWPSTCYNQ][LI][GAVLIMFWPSTCYNQ][DEQ]} for true PEXEL and {[KR].[LI].[DEQ]} for loose PEXEL motif where capital letters denote individual amino acids, multiple amino acids in brackets[XZ] represent ambiguity in pattern and full stop (.) means any amino acid. Five sequences with a true PEXEL pattern and five more with loose PEXEL pattern were selected and used.

Docking of PEXEL and inhibitor Lopinavir with PvPM-V active (tail deleted) 3D models

Thirty extra amino acids, 15 upstream and 15 downstream PEXEL sequence were included in the model. PEXEL peptide 3D structures were obtained from phyre2 server ( [37]. Modeled PEXEL peptides were molecularly docked with PvPM-V tail delete models. For in-silico interaction studies structures were submitted to the Patch Dock server ( [38]. Patch Dock results were refined by submitting best 100 dockings to FibreDock server ( [39]. Interacting amino acid side chains were visualized with VMD software. Similarly protein models were docked with lopinavir drug PDB structure ( employing patchdock followed by firedock analysis ( [40].

Results and Discussion

Plasmodium specific proteases, mainly plasmepsin family proteins, involved in the hemoglobin degradation, have been proposed as key antimalarial drug targets. In P. falciparum plasmepsin-IV and plasmepsin-V has been extensively studied to examine the functional properties. However, unlike P. falciparum studies on plasmepsins from P. vivax are poorly investigated, principally due to lack of in vitro culture system. Therefore, in order to understand the substantial level of molecular nature and functional properties of PvPM-V-Ind, in the present study we aimed to examine the genetic polymorphism among field isolates from different geographical regions of India and structural analysis of the plasmepsin-V gene of Plasmodium vivax (PvPM-V-Ind), through combination of genomics and in silico bioinformatic approaches.

PvPM-V-Ind is a highly conserved single copy aspartic protease gene having imperfect duplication insertions

In order to examine the molecular nature and genetic diversity of the PvPM-V, the PCR amplified products from different geographical regions of India were sequenced and analyzed through comparative bioinformatics analysis. This gene carries an open reading frame of 1635 bp, which is predicted to encode proteins of 544 amino acid residues, having a pro-domain region from 1–50 amino acids, a hing region in pro-domain from 45–48 AA, active side pocket from 77 to 88 and 318 to 329 AA with aspartic residue at 80 and 321 AA, aspartic protease signature at 226 to 239 and 438 to 453 AA, Tran-membrane domain from 497 to 529 AA and C-terminal tail from 529 to 544 amino acids (Fig. 1 and Fig. 2). We were unable to notice any polymorphism among any sequenced Indian isolate for the PvPM-V-Ind gene which showed a 100% amino acid sequence identity, indicating high degree of conservation among them. However, when we compared PvPM-V-Ind sequence with available P. vivax Sal-1 isolate which was used as control, interestingly we observed two unique mutations comprising insertions of three neutral and one acidic amino acids viz. SVSE from 246 to 249 positions and duplications of four amino acids i.e. SLSE from 266 to 269 positions, in all the Indian isolates tested (Fig. 1 and Fig. 2). The omnipresence of these mutations in PvPM-V-Ind gene in isolates from different geographical regions of India could imply that either Plasmodium vivax infections are all evolved from single ancestor isolated from rest of the world or Plasmodium vivax with this polymorphism is more virulent and dominating emerging severe infections.

Figure 1. Schematic representation of various protein signatures, domains and other features of both P. vivax Sal-1 (wild type) and P. vivax_Ind (mutant) plasmepsin-V.

P. vivax_Ind showing first imperfect duplication insertion type of mutation from 246 AA to 249 AA positions and second duplication insertion from 262 AA to 264 AA position.

Figure 2. Clustal W multiple sequence alignment of plasmepsin-V orthologues within plasmodium genera.

Plasmodium vivax PvPM-V-Ind is the mutant sequence from the Indian isolates.

In order to measure the genetic relatedness and evolutionary events, we performed multiple sequence alignment analysis and compared PvPM-V-Ind sequence with available plasmepsin-V sequences for other Plasmodium species in the database. PvPM-V-Ind gene shows 98% homology with P. vivax Sal-1, 80% homology with P. knowlesi-strainH, 60% homology with P. falciparum, 58% homology with P. yoelli, [Fig. 2]. Plasmepsin-V multi sequence alignment analysis revealed that prodomain region of plasmepsin-V is most hyper variable among Plasmodium species 25–45 AA of PvPM-V suggesting an absence of a conserved cleavage site while 45–65 amino acids were found to be highly conserved among all species of Plasmodium. Conserved and distinguished features of plasmepsin-V sequence have been summarized in the Figure 1.

Phylogenetic analysis suggested specialized role of this gene in Plasmodium genome as other apicomplexan like Toxoplasma gondi did not share much homology with Plasmodium plasmepsin-V. Though the orthologues had phylogenetic relationship similar to genomic phylogeny but maximum similarity of plasmepsin-V to known orthologue was outside Plasmodium genera found less than 30% [Fig. 3A]. Other pathogenic protozoa did not show conservancy of plasmepsin-V orthologue in their respective genomes [Fig. 3A] however, this gene had distinct phylogeny in Plasmodium genera [Fig. 3B], not overlapping with other plasmepsins. Furthermore, the SPRING analysis showed that the polymorphism encountered in almost all Indian isolates is more evolved form of plasmepsin-V reported by previous workers. Sequence analysis suggests importance of this gene in Plasmodium genera as it is well conserved in the plasmodium genera but no conservancy with other closely related organisms.

Figure 3. Phylogenetic analysis (bootstrap) of plasmepsin -V using neighbor joining method.

(A) Different orthologue sequences of plasmepsin-V from different pathogenic protozoan. Plasmodium vivax_Ind (PvPM-V-Ind) is the mutant sequence from the Indian isolates. (B) Cropped and zoomed in phylogenetic tree from Figure 3A showing Indian isolates to be a more evolved gene.

Functional analysis by structural modeling and protein activation prediction of PvPM-V-Ind

Out of these multiple events, trafficking across the PVM essentially requires additional sequence elements named Plasmodium export elements (PEXEL) [13]. Recently it has been shown that aspartyl protease plasmepsin-V activities are responsible for PEXEL processing in P. falciparum [23]. However, unlike P. falciparum, the functional studies on P. vivax plasmepsins have been very limited, primarily due to the lack in vitro culture. Therefore, to predict the possible functional properties and activation pathway of P. vivax plasmepsin-V, in the present study we took an opportunity of the available structural and functional database of P. falciparum plasmepsins and compared them with the predicted molecular model of PvPM-V-Ind.

In order to examine the structural and functional relationship, we first compared the modeled structure of PvPM-V-Ind isolate having C-score: −2.42, TM: 0.43+0.14, and RMSD: 13.4+4.1 Å with the PvPM-V Sal-1 (i.e. wild) having C-score: −2.46, TM: 0.43+0.14, and RMSD: 13.5+4 Å. This analysis showed very compact structural similarities to other aspartic proteases and the N-terminal prodomain region of PvPM-V seems to block active site, enabling higher substrate specificity of PvPM-V. This was consistent with both previous reports of inactivity of native protein [23] and non self cleavage activity of plasmepsin-V in P. falciparum [26]. in vitro studies on PfPM-V showed activity in slightly smaller protein fragments purified by affinity chromatography with no clear mechanism of activation [23].

Therefore, in order to predict a model with more in vivo similarity where it could be embedded in the membrane; the trans-membrane domain in C-terminal tail was cleaved off from the main model in functional protein. The resulting models (PvPM-V Sal-1 (i.e. wild type); C-score: −2.66, TM: 0.46+0.15, RMSD: 12.3+4.3 Å and PvPM-V-Ind (i.e. mutant); C-score: −2.43, TM: 0.45+0.15, RMSD: 12.6+4.3 Å) showed an overall effect of trans-membrane domain removal, enabling more stable than complete sequence models. In comparison to complete sequence model the most significant and consistent change observed in both tail deleted PvPM-V Sal-1(wild type) and tail deleted PvPM-V-Ind (mutant) was folding of N-terminal pro-domain region at a hing region (45–48 amino acids) and thus freeing active site pocket for substrate binding [Fig. 4A and 4B]. The N-terminal prodomain sequence after folding at hing competitively interact with same amino acid residue side chains of the model as that of C-terminal in the native structure (Fig. 4b). The pocket formed by amino acids : ‘67 ASP,72 GLU,74 ARG,223 GLU,224 ASN,227 GLU,236 ALA,243 GLY,245 LYS,248 SER,250 GLN,394 TYR’ on side chains of model acts as a common binding site at which C-terminal tail amino acids : ‘505 LEU,507 VAL,493 PHE,479 ASN,476 ARG’ binds in complete sequence model and as the C-terminal tail domain is cleaved same pocket binds with N-terminal residues : ‘30 LEU,33 GLN,35 ARG,37 GLU,40 GLU,51 LYS’ of the tail deleted model.

Figure 4. Structural cartoon representations of model of plasmepsin-V of P. vivax.

(A) Complete model with C-terminal trans-membrane domain (purple), the n-terminal pro-domain (lime) inhibiting the complete active site cleft with aspartic acid residue (red) and side chains. (B) Displaying structural changes after the cleavage of c-terminal trans-membrane domain (purple). The N-terminal prodomain peptide (lime) frees complete active site cleft after folding at hinge and competitively interacts with same amino acid residue side chains of the model as that of C-terminal in the native structure.

The prodomain folded at 45–48 amino acids, a hinge region predicted by ‘HingeProt’ server ( [41], [44] was highly conserved among plasmepsin-V in all Plasmodia compared in the present study. Russo [14] pulled down hsp70 of ER with recombinant protein which could be involved in re-shuffling of prodomain to free active site in membrane embedded protein [14]. Earlier studies [26] in P. falciparum plasmepsin-V showed the presence of plasmepsin-V in ER as well as in cytosol, while the activity was shown specifically in the ER only [24]. Taken together all this information, it can be postulated that embedded C-terminal protein part in the membrane, brings about some structural changes mediated by ER chaperons rendering it active. Russo et al [14] has also showed the activity with uncleaved GFP tagged protein while in contrast Boddey et al [23] failed to show activity in native protein suggesting GFP tag interferes in pro-domain structure and somehow frees active site, indicating that prodomain may be involved to inhibits enzyme function and as per other reports, protein may becomes activated without self prodomain cleavage once embedded in the ER membrane.

Mutations in PvPM-V-Ind shows significant effect on PEXEL motif substrate specificity and known inhibitor binding

Next, we attempted to predict the possible involvement of two unique insertions/mutations on the substrate binding activity of PvPM-V-Ind. The plasmepsin-V structure shows that the active site is quite large and canal like for binding peptide substrates. Therefore, we predict that a small change in the sequence may affect active site architecture, thereby modifying binding and processivity of resulting enzyme. As PEXEL peptides are known substrates of plasmepsin-V therefore in silico molecular interaction studies of PEXEL peptide and active enzyme may reveal differences in the active site/substrate binding domains. Although, PEXEL peptides have low sequence similarity among themselves, however they always tends to form a right handed helix which could be structurally superimposed displaying high similarity [Fig. 5]. Modeled PEXEL peptides docked in central canal like active domain showed clear interactions between amino acids of PEXEL peptide and amino acids of the active domain of PvPM-V explaining sequence specificity of plasmepsin-V [Fig. 6A and 6B]. The target site of cleavage i.e. between third and fourth AA of PEXEL motif clearly exposed to active aspartyl side chains [Fig. 6A and 6B]. Docking analysis showed unique changes/variation in the interacting amino acids (Table 1). Further, in order to compare the PvPM-V-Ind (mutant) and PvPM-V Sal-1 (wild) active sites, the comparative docking scores of all the five tight PEXEL [Table 2] and lose PEXEL were tabulated [Table 3]. The docking scores of PvPM-V-Ind (mutant) and PvPM-V Sal-1 (wild type) clearly shows a lot of variation in Global energy as well as in ACE scores in case of both tight as well as loose PEXELs. In order to further analyze the effect of insertion/mutation on the active site domain of PvPM-V-Ind, only known inhibitor of plasmepsin-V i.e lopinavir [14] was molecularly docked with plasmepsin-V tail delete models [Fig. 7]. Docking analysis again showed unique changes/variation in the interacting amino acids (Table 1) and docking scores for PvPM-V Sal-1 (wild type) and PvPM-V-Ind (mutant) structures (Fig. 7a & 7b). Therefore, the predicted variation in the docking score and interacting amino acids of PvPM-V Sal-1 (wild) and PvPM-V-Ind (mutant) proteins with both PEXEL and lopinavir suggests a modification in the activity of PvPM-V-Ind might have resulted from this mutation.

Figure 5. Structural alignment of PEXEL domains.

Showing high structural consensus in the side chain topology in even dissimilar sequences. Brown PVX10368 (tsekdfsvdkikeeyKFIEDsnfykiynelnwdcn) PEXEL sequence and Purple PVX092305 (ksedlpskvpdkllnKSLIDilnynfnvndvmgif) PEXEL sequence.

Figure 6. Structural representations of model PvPM-V.

(A) PvPM-V Sal-1 (Wild Type) (B) PvPM-V-Ind (mutant). Displaying docked PEXEL motif (sky blue helix) with the active site showing different pockets of interaction with different PEXEL amino acid side chains. Deepest pockets for are for first (green) and last (blue) AA. Low number of interacting AA (white) suggests more ambiguity allowed at the PEXEL member. Active aspartyl residues (red) clearly interact with the backbone of docked peptide at the point of cleavage.

Figure 7. Structural representations with Lopinavir interactions.

(A) Displaying active site of the PvPM-V Sal-1 (wild type) and its interaction with only known inhibitor lopinavir (red) (B) Displaying active site of the PvPM-V-Ind (mutant) and its interaction with known inhibitor lopinavir (red). The docked lopinavir (red) showing interaction with hydrophobic amino acid residue (white) of the active site, while hydrophilic residues: acidic (red), Basic (blue) and neutral (green) comprise of the docking site. There are clear overall changes in structure as well as in interacting amino acids with the ligand.

Table 1. The predicted variations in the interacting amino acid residues side chains of PvPM-V Sal-1 (wild) and PvPM-V-Ind (mutant) with PEXEL and only known inhibitor Lopinavir.

Table 2. The comparative docking score of true PEXEL with PvPM-V Sal-1 (wild) and PvPM V- Ind (mutant).

Table 3. The comparative docking score of loose PEXEL with PvPM-V Sal-1 (wild) and PvPM-V- Ind (mutant).

Various reports from India have shown lower sensitivity of rapid diagnostic tests (80–85%) [42] which are based on erythrocytic stage antigens. This could be a result of this type widespread plasmepsin-V polymorphism or selection of this polymorphism by impairing diagnosis. Plasmepsin-V may be a unique drug target, as it is conserved in all Plasmodium species and is also a single copy essential gene. The consensus architecture of PEXEL side chains can be used to design a novel inhibitor/pharmacophore specific to PvPM-V. Similar polymorphisms may be screened in P. falciparum/cultivable parasites as it has not been done so far & could reveal mutational impact of PvPM-V on antigenic profile of mutants.


Genetic polymorphism of the PvPM-V could be a novel tactic to change antigenic profile as plasmepsin-V has been shown to be key enzyme for antigenic protein export. The omnipresence of this imperfect duplicate insertions type mutations in different geographical regions of India (PvPM-V-Ind) could imply that either Plasmodium vivax infections are all evolved from single ancestor isolated from rest of the world or Plasmodium vivax with this polymorphism is more virulent and dominating emerging infections. Sequence analysis suggests importance of this gene in Plasmodium genera as it is well conserved in the same but no conservancy with other closely related organisms. Overriding host cellular functions by exporting as many as 200–300 proteins are a characteristic feature of Plasmodium sp. [43], [45] thus a conservancy and essentiality of this gene is due to this specialized function. Exported proteins, as identified by the PEXEL motif, play a major role in Plasmodium virulence and facilitate the parasite's survival in the host cell. Polymorphism in PvPM-V-Ind gene could possibly have a wider impact by favoring or limiting export of certain PEXEL proteins thereby changing the antigenic profile. Comprehensive knowledge of their diversity and evolution will help to unravel the emergence of the high pathogenicity of P. vivax, and may allow the identification of novel targets for malaria therapy.


Thanks are extended to the patients for their consent to participate in this study. We are also thankful to Dr. Rajnikant Dixit for his critical reading and suggestions during the manuscript preparation. We are also thankful to our technical staff Mr. Bhanu Arya (Technical Officer) and Mrs. Poonam Gupta (technical assistant) for their excellent technical help in day to day laboratory work.

Author Contributions

Interpretation of data: MR YG PKT AS. Provided facilities and scientific environment for experimental work: AS. Read and approved the final manuscript: MR SV YG PKT AS. Conceived and designed the experiments: MR AS. Performed the experiments: MR SV. Analyzed the data: MR YG SV. Wrote the paper: MR YG PKT AS.


  1. 1. World Health Organization (2010) World Malaria Report.
  2. 2. Mandis K, Sina BJ, Marchesini P, Carter R (2001) The neglected burden of Plasmodium vivax malaria. Am J Tropical Med Hyg 64: 97–106.
  3. 3. Allilo MS, Bygbjerg IC, Breman JG (2004) Are multilateral malaria research and control programs the most successful? Lessons from past 100 years in Africa. Am J Trop Med Hyg 71: 268–278.
  4. 4. Richie TL, Saul A (2002) Progress and challenges for malaria vaccines. Nature 415: 694–701.
  5. 5. Baird JK (2004) Chloroquine resistance in Plasmodium vivax. Antimicrob Agents Chemother 48: 4075–4083.
  6. 6. Tjitra E, Anstey NM, Sugiarto P, Warikar N, Kenangalem E, et al. (2008) Multidrug-resistant Plasmodium vivax associated with severe and fatal malaria: a prospective study in Papua, Indonesia. PLoS Med 5: e128.
  7. 7. Poespoprodjo JR, Fobia W, Kenangalem E, Lampah DA, Hasanuddin A, et al. (2009) Vivax malaria: A major cause of morbidity in early infancy. Clin Infect Dis 48: 1704–1712.
  8. 8. Halder K, Mohandas N (2007) Erythrocyte remodeling by malaria parasite. Curr Opin Hematol 14: 203–209.
  9. 9. Anstey NM, Russell B, Yeo TW, Price RN (2009) The pathophysiology of vivax malaria. Trends Parasitol 25: 220–227.
  10. 10. Price RN, Tjitra E, Guerra CA, Yeung S, White NJ, et al. (2007) Vivax malaria: neglected and not benign. Am J Trop Med Hyg 77: 79–87.
  11. 11. Arias AE, Corredor A (1989) Low response of Colombian strains of Plasmodium vivax to classical antimalarial therapy. Trop Med Parasitol 40: 21–23.
  12. 12. Maier AG, Cooke BM, Cowman AF, Tilley L (2009) Malaria Parasite proteins that remodel infection. Nature Rev Microbial 7: 341–354.
  13. 13. Marti M, Good RT, Rug M, Knuepfer E, Cowman AF (2004) Targeting malaria virulence and remodeling proteins to the host erythrocyte. Science 306: 1930–1933.
  14. 14. Russo I, Babbitt S, Muralidharan V, Butler T, Oksman A, et al. (2010) Plasmepsin V licenses Plasmodium proteins for export into the host erythrocyte. Nature 463: 632–636.
  15. 15. Spaccapelo R, Janse CJ, Caterbi S, Franke-Fayard B, Bonilla JA, et al. (2010) Plasmepsin 4-deficient Plasmodium berghei are virulence attenuate and induce protective immunity against experimental malaria. Am J Pathol 176: 205–217.
  16. 16. Blackman MJ (2008) Malarial proteases and host cell egress: an ‘emerging’ cascade. Cell Microbiol 10: 1925–34.
  17. 17. Bonilla JA, Bonilla TD, Yowell CA, Fujioka H, Dame JB (2007) Critical roles for the digestive vacuole plasmepsins of Plasmodium falciparum in vacuolar function. Mol Microbiol 65: 64–75.
  18. 18. Coombs GH, Goldberg DE, Klemba M, Berry C, Kay J, et al. (2001) Aspartic proteases of Plasmodium falciparum and other parasitic protozoa as drug targets. Trends Parasitol 17: 532–537.
  19. 19. Sharma A (2007) Malarial protease inhibitor: Potential new chemotheraputic agents. Curr Opin Investigat Drugs 8 (8) 642–652.
  20. 20. Carlton J (2003) The Plasmodium vivax genome sequencing project. Trends Parasitol 19: 227–231.
  21. 21. Carlton JM, Adams JH, Silva JC, Bidwell SL, Lorenzi H, et al. (2008) Comparative genomics of the neglected human malaria parasite Plasmodium vivax. Nature 455: 757–763.
  22. 22. Rawat M, Vijay S, Gupta Y, Dixit R, Tiwari PK, et al. (2011) Sequence homology and structural analysis of Plasmepsin 4 isolated from Indian Plasmodium vivax isolates,. Infection Genetics Evolution 11: 924–933.
  23. 23. Boddey JA, Hodder AN, Günther S, Gilson PR, Patsiouras H, et al. (2010) An aspartyl protease directs malaria effector proteins to the host cell. Nature 463: 627–633.
  24. 24. Osbornea AR, Speicherb KD, Pamela A, Tameza PA, Bhattacharjee S, et al. (2010) The host targeting motif in exported Plasmodium proteins is cleaved in the parasite endoplasmic reticulum. Mol Biochem Parasitol 171: 25–31.
  25. 25. Hiller NL, Bhattacharjee S, Ooij CV, Liolios K, Harrison T, et al. (2004) A host targeting signal in virulence proteins reveals a secretome in malaria infection. Science 306: 1934–1937.
  26. 26. Klemba M, Goldberg DE (2005) Characterization of plasmepsin V, a membrane-bound aspartic protease homolog in the endoplasmic reticulum of Plasmodium falciparum. Mol Biochem Parasitol 143: 183–91.
  27. 27. World Health Organization (1996) Assessment of Therapeutic Efficacy for Uncomplicated Falciparum Malaria in Areas with Intense Transmission. Geneva: (WHO/MAL/96.1077) World Health Organization.
  28. 28. Na BK, Lee EG, Lee HW, Cho SH, Bae YA, et al. (2004) Aspartic proteases of Plasmodium vivax are highly conserved in wild isolates. Korean J Parasitol 42: 61–66.
  29. 29. Mulder N, Apweiler R (2007) InterPro and InterProScan: tools for protein sequence classification and comparison. Methods Mol Biol 396: 59–70 Available:
  30. 30. Zdobnov EM, Apweiler R (2001) InterProScan – an integration platform for the signature- recognition methods in InterPro. Bioinfo 17: 847–848.
  31. 31. Lin YC, Lu CL, Liu YC, Tang CY (2006) SPRING: a tool for the analysis of genome rearrangement using reversals and block-interchanges. Nucleic Acids Res 34 (Web Server issue) W696–9.
  32. 32. Roy A, Kucukural A, Zhang Y (2010) I-TASSER: a unified platform for automated protein structure and function prediction. Nat Protocols 5: 725–738.
  33. 33. Yang-Zhang (2008) I-TASSER server for protein 3D structure prediction. BMC Bioinformatics 9: 40 Available:
  34. 34. Humphrey W, Dalke A, Schulten K (1996) VMD: visual molecular dynamics. J Mol Graph 14 (1) 33–8, 33-8, 27-8.
  35. 35. Hsin J, Arkhipov A, Yin Y, Stone JE, Schulten K (2008) Using VMD: an introductory tutorial. Curr Protoc Bioinformatics Chapter 5: Unit 5.7.
  36. 36. Seiler M, Mehrle A, Poustka A, Wiemann S (2006) The 3 of 5 web application for complex and comprehensive pattern matching in protein sequences. BMC Bioinformatics 16: 7–144.
  37. 37. Kelley LA, Sternberg MJE (2009) Protein structure prediction on the web: a case study using the Phyre server. Nat Protocols 4: 363–371.
  38. 38. Schneidman-Duhovny D, Inbar Y, Nussinov R, Wolfson HJ (2005) PatchDock and SymmDock: servers for rigid and symmetric docking. Nucleic Acids Res 33 (Web Server issue) W363–7.
  39. 39. Mashiach E, Nussinov R, Wolfson HJ (2010) FiberDock: a web server for flexible induced-fit backbone refinement in molecular docking. Nucleic Acids Res 38 Suppl: W457–61.
  40. 40. Mashiach E, Schneidman-Duhovny D, Andrusier N, Nussinov R, Wolfson HJ (2008) FireDock: a web server for fast interaction refinement in molecular docking. Nucleic Acids Res 36 (Web Server issue) W229–32.
  41. 41. Emekli U, Schneidman-Duhovny D, Wolfson HJ, Nussinov R, Haliloglu T (2008) HingeProt: Automated Prediction of Hinges in Protein Structures. Proteins 70 (4) 1219–27.
  42. 42. Singh N, Shukla MM, Shukla MK, Mehra RK, Sharma S, et al. (2010) Field and laboratory comparative evaluation of rapid malaria diagnostic tests versus traditional and molecular techniques in India. Malaria Journal 9: 191.
  43. 43. Haase S, de Koning-Ward TF (2010) New insights into protein export in malaria parasites. Cellular Microbiology 12 (5) 580–587.
  44. 44. De Koning-Ward TF, Gilson PR, Boddey JA, Rug M, Papenfuss AT, et al. (2009) A newly discovered protein export machine in malaria parasites. Nature 459: 945–950.
  45. 45. Sargeant TJ, Marti M, Caler E, Carlton JM, Simpson K, et al. (2006) Lineage-specific expansion of proteins exported to erythrocytes in malaria parasite. Genome Biol 7: R12.