Intraerythrocytic malaria parasites avidly consume hemoglobin as a source of amino acids for incorporation into parasite proteins. An acidic organelle, the digestive vacuole, is the site of hemoglobin proteolysis. Early events in hemoglobin catabolism have been well studied. Two aspartic proteases, plasmepsins I and II, and a cysteine protease, falcipain, cleave hemoglobin into peptides. While it has been presumed that hemoglobin peptide fragments are degraded to individual amino acids by exopeptidase activity in the digestive vacuole, this hypothesis lacks experimental support. Incubation of human hemoglobin with P, falciparum digestive vacuole lysate generated a series of discrete peptide fragments with cleavage sites an average of 8.4 amino acids apart. No free amino acids could be detected and there was no evidence of peptide heterogeneity due to exopeptidase trimming. These sites correspond to points of cleavage previously established for plasmepsin I, plasmepsin II, and falcipain as well as some novel sites that suggest the existence of an additional endoproteinase. By colorimetric assay, P. falciparum has abundant aminopeptidase activity but this activity is not found in the digestive vacuoles and the parasite lacks detectable carboxypeptidase activity altogether. These data support a model for hemoglobin catabolism wherein small peptides are formed from cleavage of hemoglobin by the enzymes of the digestive vacuole and then are transported through the membrane of the digestive vacuole to the cytoplasm. There, exopeptidase activity converts the peptides to individual amino acids for parasite growth and maturation.
- Multidrug resistance