Targeting molecular interactions essential for Plasmodium sexual reproduction.
Malaria remains one of the most devastating infectious diseases, killing up to a million people every year. Whereas much progress has been made in understanding the life cycle of the parasite in the human host and in the mosquito vector, significant gaps of knowledge remain. Fertilization of malaria parasites, a process that takes place in the lumen of the mosquito midgut, is poorly understood and the molecular interactions (receptor-ligand) required for Plasmodium fertilization remain elusive. By use of a phage display library, we identified FG1 (Female Gamete peptide 1), a peptide that binds specifically to the surface of female Plasmodium berghei gametes. Importantly, FG1 but not a scrambled version of the peptide, strongly reduces P. berghei oocyst formation by interfering with fertilization. In addition, FG1 also inhibits P. falciparum oocyst formation suggesting that the peptide binds to a molecule on the surface of the female gamete whose structure is conserved. Identification of the molecular interactions disrupted by the FG1 peptide may lead to the development of novel malaria transmission-blocking strategies.