Research Article: Real-Time Imaging of the Intracellular Glutathione Redox Potential in the Malaria Parasite Plasmodium falciparum

Date Published: December 5, 2013

Publisher: Public Library of Science

Author(s): Denis Kasozi, Franziska Mohring, Stefan Rahlfs, Andreas J. Meyer, Katja Becker, Hagai Ginsburg.


In the malaria parasite Plasmodium falciparum, the cellular redox potential influences signaling events, antioxidant defense, and mechanisms of drug action and resistance. Until now, the real-time determination of the redox potential in malaria parasites has been limited because conventional approaches disrupt sub-cellular integrity. Using a glutathione biosensor comprising human glutaredoxin-1 linked to a redox-sensitive green fluorescent protein (hGrx1-roGFP2), we systematically characterized basal values and drug-induced changes in the cytosolic glutathione-dependent redox potential (EGSH) of drug-sensitive (3D7) and resistant (Dd2) P. falciparum parasites. Via confocal microscopy, we demonstrated that hGrx1-roGFP2 rapidly detects EGSH changes induced by oxidative and nitrosative stress. The cytosolic basal EGSH of 3D7 and Dd2 were estimated to be −314.2±3.1 mV and −313.9±3.4 mV, respectively, which is indicative of a highly reducing compartment. We furthermore monitored short-, medium-, and long-term changes in EGSH after incubation with various redox-active compounds and antimalarial drugs. Interestingly, the redox cyclers methylene blue and pyocyanin rapidly changed the fluorescence ratio of hGrx1-roGFP2 in the cytosol of P. falciparum, which can, however, partially be explained by a direct interaction with the probe. In contrast, quinoline and artemisinin-based antimalarial drugs showed strong effects on the parasites’ EGSH after longer incubation times (24 h). As tested for various conditions, these effects were accompanied by a drop in total glutathione concentrations determined in parallel with alternative methods. Notably, the effects were generally more pronounced in the chloroquine-sensitive 3D7 strain than in the resistant Dd2 strain. Based on these results hGrx1-roGFP2 can be recommended as a reliable and specific biosensor for real-time spatiotemporal monitoring of the intracellular EGSH in P. falciparum. Applying this technique in further studies will enhance our understanding of redox regulation and mechanisms of drug action and resistance in Plasmodium and might also stimulate redox research in other pathogens.

Partial Text

Malaria is a major disease burden in 106 countries, causing an estimated 225 million cases and, as reported for 2010, 665,000 to 1,133,000 human deaths each year in tropical and sub-tropical regions [1]. Despite recent progress [2], drug resistance remains a major obstacle to the effective and sustainable control of malaria. Cellular redox reactions play important roles not only in redox regulatory processes and antioxidant defense but also in the mechanisms of drug action and drug resistance in malaria parasites [3], [4]. Recent advances in parasite biology suggest a compartmentalization of redox metabolism [5] as well as of cellular processes that are sites of drug action [6].




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