Although efforts to understand the basis for inter-strain phenotypic variation in the most virulent malaria species, Plasmodium falciparum, have benefited from advances in genomic technologies, there have to date been few metabolomic studies of this parasite. Using 1H-NMR spectroscopy, we have compared the metabolite profiles of red blood cells infected with different P. falciparum strains. These included both chloroquine-sensitive and chloroquine-resistant strains, as well as transfectant lines engineered to express different isoforms of the chloroquine-resistance-conferring pfcrt (P. falciparum chloroquine resistance transporter). Our analyses revealed strain-specific differences in a range of metabolites. There was marked variation in the levels of the membrane precursors choline and phosphocholine, with some strains having >30-fold higher choline levels and >5-fold higher phosphocholine levels than others. Chloroquineresistant strains showed elevated levels of a number of amino acids relative to chloroquine-sensitive strains, including an approximately 2-fold increase in aspartate levels. The elevation in amino acid levels was attributable to mutations in pfcrt. Pfcrt-linked differences in amino acid abundance were confirmed using alternate extraction and detection (HPLC) methods. Mutations acquired to withstand chloroquine exposure therefore give rise to significant biochemical alterations in the parasite.
Teng, R., Lehane, A. M., Winterberg, M., Shafik, S. H., Summers, R. L., Martin, R. E., … Kirk, K. (2014). 1H-NMR metabolite profiles of different strains of Plasmodium falciparum. Bioscience Reports, 34(6), 685–699. https://doi.org/10.1042/BSR20140134