Several protozoan parasites undergo a complex life cycle that alternates between an invertebrate vector and a vertebrate host. Adaptations to these different environments by the parasites are achieved by drastic changes in their morphology and metabolism. The malaria parasites must be transmitted to a mammal from a mosquito as part of their life cycle. Upon entering the mammalian host, extracellular malaria sporozoites reach the liver and invade hepatocytes, wherein they meet the challenge of becoming replication-competent schizonts. During the process of conversion, the sporozoite selectively discards organelles that are unnecessary for the parasite growth in liver cells. Among the organelles that are cleared from the sporozoite are the micronemes, abundant secretory vesicles that facilitate the adhesion of the parasite to hepatocytes. Organelles specialized in sporozoite motility and structure, such as the inner membrane complex (a major component of the motile parasite's cytoskeleton), are also eliminated from converting parasites. The high degree of sophistication of the metamorphosis that occurs at the onset of the liver-form development cascade suggests that the observed changes must be multifactorial. Among the mechanisms implicated in the elimination of sporozoite organelles, the degradative process called autophagy contributes to the remodelling of the parasite interior and the production of replicative liver forms. In a broader context, the importance of the role played by autophagy during the differentiation of protozoan parasites that cycle between insects and vertebrates is nowadays clearly emerging. An exciting prospect derived from these observations is that the parasite proteins involved in the autophagic process may represent new targets for drug development.

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