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Comparative structural and evolutionary analyses predict functional sites in the artemisinin resistance malaria protein K13

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JournalScientific Reports
DateAccepted/In press - 3 Jul 2019
DateE-pub ahead of print - 23 Jul 2019
DatePublished (current) - 23 Jul 2019
Issue number1
Pages (from-to)10675
Early online date23/07/19
Original languageEnglish


Numerous mutations in the Plasmodium falciparum Kelch13 (K13) protein confer resistance to artemisinin derivatives, the current front-line antimalarial drugs. K13 is an essential protein that contains BTB and Kelch-repeat propeller (KREP) domains usually found in E3 ubiquitin ligase complexes that target substrate protein(s) for ubiquitin-dependent degradation. K13 is thought to bind substrate proteins, but its functional/interaction sites and the structural alterations associated with artemisinin resistance mutations remain unknown. Here, we screened for the most evolutionarily conserved sites in the protein structure of K13 as indicators of structural and/or functional constraints. We inferred structure-dependent substitution rates at each amino acid site of the highly conserved K13 protein during the evolution of Apicomplexa parasites. We found two solvent-exposed patches of extraordinarily conserved sites likely involved in protein-protein interactions, one in BTB and the other one in KREP. The conserved patch in K13 KREP overlaps with a shallow pocket that displays a differential electrostatic surface potential, relative to neighboring sites, and that is rich in serine and arginine residues. Comparative structural and evolutionary analyses revealed that these properties were also found in the functionally-validated shallow pocket of other KREPs including that of the cancer-related KEAP1 protein. Finally, molecular dynamics simulations carried out on PfK13 R539T and C580Y artemisinin resistance mutant structures revealed some local structural destabilization of KREP but not in its shallow pocket. These findings open new avenues of research on one of the most enigmatic malaria proteins with the utmost clinical importance.

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© The Author(s) 2019

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