The disease malaria, caused by the parasite Plasmodium falciparum, remains one of the most important causes of morbidity and mortality in sub-Saharan Africa. In the absence of an efficient vaccine, the medical treatment of malaria is dependent on the use of drugs. Since artemisinin is a powerful anti-malarial drug which has been proposed to target a particular Ca2+-ATPase (PfATP6) in the parasite, it has been important to characterize the molecular properties of this enzyme. PfATP6 is a 139 kDa protein composed of 1228 amino acids with a 39% overall identity with rabbit SERCA1a (sarcoplasmic/endoplasmic reticulum Ca2+-ATPase 1a). PfATP6 conserves all sequences and motifs that are important for the function and/or structure of a SERCA, such as two high-affinity Ca2+-binding sites, a nucleotide-binding site and a phosphorylation site. We have been successful in isolating PfATP6 after heterologous expression in yeast and affinity chromatography in a pure, active and stable detergent-solubilized form. With this preparation, we have characterized and compared with the eukaryotic SERCA1a isoform the substrate (Ca2+ and ATP) -dependency for PfATP6 activity as well as the specific inhibition/interaction of the protein with drugs. Our data fully confirm that PfATP6 is a SERCA, but with a distinct pharmacological profile: compared with SERCA1a, it has a lower affinity for thapsigargin and much higher affinity for cyclopiazonic acid. On the other hand, we were not able to demonstrate any inhibition by artemisinin and were also not able to monitor any binding of the drug to the isolated enzyme. Thus it is unlikely that PfATP6 plays an important role as a target for artemisinin in the parasite P. falciparum.

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