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1.  Red Blood Cell Invasion by Plasmodium vivax: Structural Basis for DBP Engagement of DARC 
PLoS Pathogens  2014;10(1):e1003869.
Plasmodium parasites use specialized ligands which bind to red blood cell (RBC) receptors during invasion. Defining the mechanism of receptor recognition is essential for the design of interventions against malaria. Here, we present the structural basis for Duffy antigen (DARC) engagement by P. vivax Duffy binding protein (DBP). We used NMR to map the core region of the DARC ectodomain contacted by the receptor binding domain of DBP (DBP-RII) and solved two distinct crystal structures of DBP-RII bound to this core region of DARC. Isothermal titration calorimetry studies show these structures are part of a multi-step binding pathway, and individual point mutations of residues contacting DARC result in a complete loss of RBC binding by DBP-RII. Two DBP-RII molecules sandwich either one or two DARC ectodomains, creating distinct heterotrimeric and heterotetrameric architectures. The DARC N-terminus forms an amphipathic helix upon DBP-RII binding. The studies reveal a receptor binding pocket in DBP and critical contacts in DARC, reveal novel targets for intervention, and suggest that targeting the critical DARC binding sites will lead to potent disruption of RBC engagement as complex assembly is dependent on DARC binding. These results allow for models to examine inter-species infection barriers, Plasmodium immune evasion mechanisms, P. knowlesi receptor-ligand specificity, and mechanisms of naturally acquired P. vivax immunity. The step-wise binding model identifies a possible mechanism by which signaling pathways could be activated during invasion. It is anticipated that the structural basis of DBP host-cell engagement will enable development of rational therapeutics targeting this interaction.
Author Summary
Malaria parasites, including Plasmodium vivax, must actively invade erythrocytes during blood stage growth in humans. P. vivax Duffy Binding Protein (DBP) is a critical invasion ligand that recognizes the receptor Duffy antigen/Receptor for chemokines (DARC) during invasion. To identify critical binding contacts during parasite red blood cell invasion and determine the molecular basis of DBP receptor recognition, we identified the minimal region of DARC contacted by DBP and performed structural studies on the minimal binding domain of DBP in complex with the minimal region from DARC. These studies revealed that two DBP molecules bind two DARC molecules. We performed erythrocyte binding assays with binding site mutants and identified essential receptor contacts. The identification of receptor binding sites and molecular interactions critical to the invasion process provides a basis for targeted disruption of erythrocyte invasion mediated by DBP. The structural and functional studies of DBP and DARC presented here may aid in the rational design of vaccines and invasion inhibitory therapeutics.
PMCID: PMC3887093  PMID: 24415938
2.  Sensing the Heat Stress by Mammalian Cells 
BMC Biophysics  2011;4:16.
The heat-shock response network controls the adaptation and survival of the cell against environmental stress. This network is highly conserved and is connected with many other signaling pathways. A key element of the heat-shock network is the heat-shock transcription factor-1 (HSF), which is transiently activated by elevated temperatures. HSF translocates to the nucleus upon elevated temperatures, forming homotrimeric complexes. The HSF homotrimers bind to the heat shock element on the DNA and control the expression of the hsp70 gene. The Hsp70 proteins protect cells from thermal stress. Thermal stress causes the unfolding of proteins, perturbing thus the pathways under their control. By binding to these proteins, Hsp70 allows them to refold and prevents their aggregation. The modulation of the activity of the hsp70-promoter by the intensity of the input stress is thus critical for cell's survival. The promoter activity starts from a basal level and rapidly increases once the stress is applied, reaches a maximum level and attenuates slowely back to the basal level. This phenomenon is the hallmark of many experimental studies and of all computational network analysis.
The molecular construct used as a measure of the response to thermal stress is a Hsp70-GFP fusion gene transfected in Chinese hamster ovary (CHO) cells. The time profile of the GFP protein depends on the transient activity, Transient(t), of the heat shock system. The function Transient(t) depends on hsp70 promoter activity, transcriptional regulation and the translation initiation effects elicited by the heat stress. The GFP time profile is recorded using flow cytometry measurements, a technique that allows a quantitative measurement of the fluorescence of a large number of cells (104). The GFP responses to one and two heat shocks were measured for 261 conditions of different temperatures and durations. We found that: (i) the response of the cell to two consecutive shocks (i.e., no recovery time in between shocks) depends on the order of the input shocks, that is the shocks do not commute; (ii) the responses may be classified as mild or severe, depending on the temperature level and the duration of the heat shock and (iii) the response is highly sensitive to small variations in temperature.
We propose a mathematical model that maps temperature into the transient activity using experimental data that describes the time course of the response to input thermal stress. The model is built on thermotolerance without recovery time, sharp sensitivity to small variations in temperature and the existence of mild and severe classes of stress responses. The theoretical predictions are tested against experimental data using a series of double-shock inputs. The theoretical structure is represented by a sequence of three cascade processes that transform the input stress into the transient activity. The structure of the cascade is nonlinear-linear-nonlinear (NLN). The first nonlinear system (N) from the NLN structure represents the amplification of small changes in the environmental temperature; the linear system (L) represents the thermotolerance without recovery time, whereas the last system (N) represents the transition of the cell's response from a mild to a severe shock.
PMCID: PMC3180696  PMID: 21834999

Results 1-2 (2)