Polyamine biosynthesis of the malaria parasite, Plasmodium falciparum, is regulated by a single, hinge-linked bifunctional PfAdoMetDC/ODC [P. falciparum AdoMetDC (S-adenosylmethionine decarboxylase)/ODC (ornithine decarboxylase)] with a molecular mass of 330 kDa. The bifunctional nature of AdoMetDC/ODC is unique to Plasmodia and is shared by at least three species. The PfAdoMetDC/ODC contains four parasite-specific regions ranging in size from 39 to 274 residues. The significance of the parasite-specific inserts for activity and protein–protein interactions of the bifunctional protein was investigated by a single- and multiple-deletion strategy. Deletion of these inserts in the bifunctional protein diminished the corresponding enzyme activity and in some instances also decreased the activity of the neighbouring, non-mutated domain. Intermolecular interactions between AdoMetDC and ODC appear to be vital for optimal ODC activity. Similar results have been reported for the bifunctional P. falciparum dihydrofolate reductase-thymidylate synthase [Yuvaniyama, Chitnumsub, Kamchonwongpaisan, Vanichtanankul, Sirawaraporn, Taylor, Walkinshaw and Yuthavong (2003) Nat. Struct. Biol. 10, 357–365]. Co-incubation of the monofunctional, heterotetrameric ≈150 kDa AdoMetDC domain with the monofunctional, homodimeric ODC domain (≈180 kDa) produced an active hybrid complex of 330 kDa. The hinge region is required for bifunctional complex formation and only indirectly for enzyme activities. Deletion of the smallest, most structured and conserved insert in the ODC domain had the biggest impact on the activities of both decarboxylases, homodimeric ODC arrangement and hybrid complex formation. The remaining large inserts are predicted to be non-globular regions located on the surface of these proteins. The large insert in AdoMetDC in contrast is not implicated in hybrid complex formation even though distinct interactions between this insert and the two domains are inferred from the effect of its removal on both catalytic activities. Interference with essential protein–protein interactions mediated by parasite-specific regions therefore appears to be a viable strategy to aid the design of selective inhibitors of polyamine metabolism of P. falciparum.

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