Conservation of structural motifs and antigenic diversity in the Plasmodium falciparum merozoite surface protein-3 (MSP-3)1Note: Nucleotide sequence data reported in this manuscript are available in the EMBL, GenBank™ and DDJB data bases under the accession numbers L07944, L28825, U08851 and U08852.1
Merozoite surface protein-3 (MSP-3) is a secreted polymorphic antigen associated with erythrocytic schizonts and merozoites of Plasmodium falciparum asexual blood-stages. A prominent structural feature of MSP-3 is a domain composed of three blocks of tandemly-repeated heptads with the consensus sequence AXXAXXX. The three blocks of four alanine heptad-repeats are separated by short stretches of non-repetitive sequence unrelated to the heptad-repeat. C-terminal to the heptad-repeats, MSP-3 contains a glutamic acid-rich domain followed by another heptad-repeat similar to a leucine-zipper motif. An analysis of the msp-3 gene from four P. falciparum isolates shows that polymorphism in MSP-3 is predominantly due to sequence diversity in the N-terminal half of the predicted polypeptide within and flanking the heptad-repeats. Mutations in the region of the gene that encodes the alanine heptad-repeats appear to be of two types. Unique mutations in non-repetitive sequence have generated amino acid substitutions and deletions that result in unique sequences among MSP-3 variants. In contrast, mutations in the heptad-coding sequence are largely dimorphic and are clustered in one or two heptads in each of the three blocks of heptads. Despite the diversity within and flanking the heptad domain the AXXAXXX motif is highly conserved as are other features of the sequence that predict the formation of alpha-helical secondary structure. Recombinant proteins and a synthetic peptide were used to raise antisera to conserved and variable regions of MSP-3. Differential reactivity of these reagents with the parasite antigen identified the alanine heptad-repeat domain as a site of antigenic diversity among MSP-3 polypeptides.