The emergence of drug-resistant variants of malaria-causing Plasmodium parasites is a life-threatening problem worldwide. Investigation of the physiological function of individual parasite proteins is a prerequisite for a deeper understanding of the metabolic pathways required for parasite survival and therefore a requirement for the development of novel antimalarials. A Plasmodium membrane protein, malate-quinone oxidoreductase (MQO), is thought to contribute to the tricarboxylic acid (TCA) cycle and the electron transport chain (ETC) and is an antimalarial drug target. However, there is little information on its expression and function. Here, we investigated the function of Plasmodium falciparum MQO (PfMQO) in mitochondria using a yeast heterologous expression system. Using a yeast deletion mutant of mitochondrial malate dehydrogenase (MDH1), which is expected to be functionally similar to MQO, as a background strain, we successfully constructed PfMQO-expressing yeast. We confirmed that expression of PfMQO complemented the growth defect of the MDH1 deletion, indicating that PfMQO can adopt the metabolic role of MDH1 in energy transduction for growth in the recombinant yeast. Analysis of cell fractions confirmed that PfMQO was expressed and enriched in yeast mitochondria. By measuring MQO activity, we also confirmed that PfMQO expressed in yeast mitochondria was active. Measurement of oxygen consumption rates showed that mitochondrial respiration was driven by the TCA cycle through PfMQO. In addition, we found that MQO activity was enhanced when intact mitochondria were sonicated, indicating that the malate binding site of PfMQO is located facing the mitochondrial matrix. IMPORTANCE We constructed a model organism to study the physiological role and function of P. falciparum malate-quinone oxidoreductase (PfMQO) in a yeast expression system. PfMQO is actively expressed in yeast mitochondria and functions in place of yeast mitochondrial malate dehydrogenase, which catalyzes the oxidation of malate to oxaloacetate in the TCA cycle. The catalytic site for the oxidation of malate in PfMQO, which is a membrane-bound protein, faces into the mitochondrial matrix, not the mitochondrial inner membrane space. Our findings clearly show that PfMQO is a TCA cycle enzyme and is coupled with the ETC via ubiquinone reduction.
Keywords: MQO; Plasmodium; energy metabolism; heterologous gene expression; mitochondria; yeast.