Malaria parasites hijack red blood cells, nest inside, "eat" the red blood pigment, grow and multiply until the blood cell bursts and the game begins again - the blood phase.
Many antimalarial drugs work by causing the parasite to die from its own breakdown products, which are produced when the red blood pigment is digested inside an acidified digestive vacuole. The best known example of this is chloroquine. The membrane of the digestive vacuole (digestive "organ") is a particularly important interface here. It plays a key role for the natural metabolic processes as well as for the absorption of active substances.
The BMBF junior research group "Molecular Parasitology" at the BNITM has analysed the metabolic processes at the digestive vacuole membrane in detail using various innovative methods and has been able to clarify important open questions.
For example, the so-called proton pump, the V-ATPase, is located in the membrane of the food vacuole. It continuously pumps positively charged protons from the cell sap of the parasite into its food vacuole. In this way, it ensures an acidic environment in this digestive "organ". This is necessary - not unlike in the human stomach - to be able to break down proteins efficiently.
The researchers led by Dr Joachim Michael Matz wanted to know what happens when they switch off parts of the proton pump and thus disrupt the acidification of the food vacuole. To do this, they used a combination of different molecular and cell biological methods such as CRISPR/Cas9, conditional gene deletions as well as fluorescence and electron microscopy.