Coordination of apicoplast transcription in a malaria parasite by internal and host cues

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The malaria parasite Plasmodium falciparum has a nonphotosynthetic plastid called the apicoplast, which contains its own genome. Regulatory mechanisms for apicoplast gene expression remain poorly understood, despite this organelle being crucial for the parasite life cycle. Here, we identify a nuclear-encoded apicoplast RNA polymerase s subunit (sigma factor) which, along with the a subunit, appears to mediate apicoplast transcript accumulation. This has a periodicity reminiscent of parasite circadian or developmental control. Expression of the apicoplast subunit gene, apSig, together with apicoplast transcripts, increased in the presence of the blood circadian signaling hormone melatonin. Our data suggest that the host circadian rhythm is integrated with intrinsic parasite cues to coordinate apicoplast genome transcription. This evolutionarily conserved regulatory system might be a future target for malaria treatment.