The transcriptome of the avian malaria parasite Plasmodium ashfordi displays host-specific gene expression

Research output: Contribution to journalArticle


Malaria parasites (Plasmodium spp.) include some of the world's most widespread and virulent pathogens. Our knowledge of the molecular mechanisms these parasites use to invade and exploit hosts other than mice and primates is, however, extremely limited. It is therefore imperative to characterize transcriptome-wide gene expression from non-model malaria parasites and how this varies across host individuals. Here, we used high-throughput Illumina RNA-sequencing on blood from wild-caught Eurasian siskins experimentally infected with a clonal strain of the avian malaria parasite Plasmodium ashfordi (lineage GRW2). By using a multi-step approach to filter out host transcripts, we successfully assembled the blood-stage transcriptome of P. ashfordi. A total of 11 954 expressed transcripts were identified, and 7 860 were annotated with protein information. We quantified gene expression levels of all parasite transcripts across three hosts during two infection stages – peak and decreasing parasitemia. Interestingly, parasites from the same host displayed remarkably similar expression profiles during different infection stages, but showed large differences across hosts, indicating that P. ashfordi may adjust its gene expression to specific host individuals. We further show that the majority of transcripts are most similar to the human parasite Plasmodium falciparum, and a large number of red blood cell invasion genes were discovered, suggesting evolutionary conserved invasion strategies between mammalian and avian Plasmodium. The transcriptome of P. ashfordi and its host-specific gene expression advances our understanding of Plasmodium plasticity and is a valuable resource as it allows for further studies analysing gene evolution and comparisons of parasite gene expression.


External organisations
  • State Scientific Institute Nature Research Centre
Research areas and keywords

Subject classification (UKÄ) – MANDATORY

  • Zoology


  • RNA-seq, host-parasite interaction
Original languageEnglish
JournalMolecular Ecology
Publication statusPublished - 2017 Mar 7
Publication categoryResearch

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Elin Videvall, 2018, Lund: Lund University, Faculty of Science, Department of Biology. 300 p.

Research output: ThesisDoctoral Thesis (compilation)

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Staffan Bensch, Olof Hellgren, Elin Videvall, Helena Westerdahl, Jane Jönsson, Xi Huang & Vincenzo Alexander Ellis


Project: Research

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