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Targeting wild-type Erythrocyte receptors for Plasmodium falciparum and vivax Merozoites by Zinc Finger Nucleases In- silico: Towards a Genetic Vaccine against Malaria

Henry Kajumbula1, Wilson Byarugaba2 and Misaki Wayengera13*

Author Affiliations

1 Dept of Medical Microbiology, School of Biomedical Science, College of Health Sciences, Makerere University, P O Box 7072, Kampala, Uganda

2 Dept of Biochemistry, Kampala International University Western Campus, P O Box 61, Ishaka, Bushenyi, Uganda

3 Unit of Genetics & Genomics, Dept of Pathology, School of Biomedical Science, College of Health Sciences, Makerere University, P O Box 7072, Kampala, Uganda

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Genetic Vaccines and Therapy 2012, 10:8  doi:10.1186/1479-0556-10-8

Published: 31 August 2012



Malaria causes immense human morbidity and mortality globally. The plasmodium species vivax and falciparum cause over 75 % clinical malaria cases. Until now, gene-based strategies against malaria have only been applied to plasmodium species and their mosquito-vector. Merozoites of these two respective plasmodium species target and invade red blood cells (RBCs) by using the duffy antigen receptor for chemokines (DARC), and Sialic Acid (SLC4A1) residues of the O-linked glycans of Glycophorin A. RBCs of naturally selected duffy-negative blacks are resistant to P.vivax tropism. We hypothesized that artificial aberration of the host-pathway by target mutagenesis of either RBC –receptors, may abolish or reduce susceptibility of the host to malaria. As a first step towards the experimental actualization of these concepts, we aimed to identify zinc finger arrays (ZFAs) for constructing ZFNs that target genes of either wild-type host-RBC- receptors.


In-Silico Gene & Genome Informatics


Using the genomic contextual nucleotide-sequences of homo-sapiens darc and glycophorin-a, and the ZFN-consortia software- CoDA-ZiFiT-ZFA and CoDA-ZiFiT-ZFN: we identified 163 and over 1,000 single zinc finger arrays (sZFAs) that bind sequences within the genes for the two respective RBC-receptors. Second, 2 and 18 paired zinc finger arrays (pZFAs) that are precursors for zinc finger nucleases (ZFNs) capable of cleaving the genes for darc and glycophorin-a were respectively assembled. Third, a mega-BLAST evaluation of the genome-wide cleavage specificity of this set of ZFNs was done, revealing alternate homologous nucleotide targets in the human genome other than darc or glycophorin A.


ZFNs engineered with these ZFA-precursors--with further optimization to enhance their specificity to only darc and glycophorin-a, could be used in constructing an experimental gene-based-malaria vaccine. Alternatively, meganucleases and transcription activator-like (TAL) nucleases that target conserved stretches of darc and glycophorin-a DNA may serve the purpose of abrogating invasion of RBCs by falciparam and vivax plasmodia species.

Malaria; Plasmodium; P. falciparum; P. vivax; Merozoites; RBC-receptors; Darc; Glycophorin A; Zinc finger nucleases; Host-pathway; Abrogation; Genetic vaccine