PfPK4, a protein kinase gene from the human malarial parasite Plasmodium falciparum, has been cloned utilizing oligonucleotide probing. The gene encodes a protein of a predicted length of 1123 amino acids, and within this amino acid sequence all the conserved regions characteristic of protein kinases can be identified. The catalytic kinase domain possesses highest identities (34-37%) with eukaryotic initiation factor-2α (eIF-2α) kinases, especially haem-regulated inhibitory (HRI) protein kinases. There are two kinase inserts in PfPK4, located at positions common to eIF-2α kinases. The first insert separates kinase subdomains IV and VI by 559 amino acids, and the second subdomains VII and VIII by 41 amino acids. Both inserts are larger than their homologues in eIF-2α kinases. The sequence of PfPK4 has one putative haemin-binding site. The recombinant protein, expressed in Escherichia coli, phosphorylates a synthetic peptide representing a substrate of eIF-2α kinases. Autophosphorylation and substrate phosphorylation are inhibited by haemin. Thus PfPK4 appears to be the first protozoan protein kinase related to eIF-2α kinases and might be the first non-mammalian HRI kinase. Western blots indicated that the protein is expressed as major forms of 80 and 90 kDa. Whereas the 80 kDa form is present throughout the intraerythrocytic development and in merozoites, the two 90 kDa forms are only found in mature parasites. One of the latter is also present in the membrane fraction of erythrocytes harbouring segmenters. Confocal microscopy detected the protein distributed throughout the trophozoite, whereas it was found in discrete foci (punctate distribution) in segmenters. PfPK4 co-localizes with P. falciparum 83 kDa antigen/apical membrane antigen-1 at the apical complex in segmenters and merozoites, but does not co-localize with rhoptry-associated protein-1.

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