Dr Vasant Muralidharan, Assistant Professor in the Department of Cellular Biology, and his research team at the University of Georgia’s Center for Tropical and Emerging Global Diseases are making great strides in understanding how the parasite Plasmodium falciparum invades human red blood cells to cause malaria symptoms that include fever, severe anemia, breathing difficulty, and kidney failure. The parasite can also cause the most severe forms of malaria, such as cerebral malaria, which can lead to brain damage, coma and death, and placental malaria, which occurs in pregnancy and can be life-threatening to both the mother and fetus.
P. falciparum remodels the host cell by exporting hundreds of parasite proteins across numerous membranes that transform the red blood cell to suit its needs. The mechanisms by which these proteins are exported are unknown. His lab hopes to reveal unique protein trafficking mechanisms of P. falciparum that may be targets for antimalarial drug development.
“Exported proteins, many of them absolutely essential for the growth of the parasite, are recognized and sorted throughout the trafficking process by dedicated machinery that we have only now begun to understand,” says Dr. Muralidharan. “We expect that this project will significantly advance our understanding of the protein export pathway in P. falciparum and how key decisions are made within the parasite that usher exported proteins to their site of action in the infected red blood cells.”