In response to environmental stresses, the mammalian serine threonine kinases PERK, GCN2, HRI, and PKR phosphorylate the regulatory serine 51 of the eukaryotic translation initiation factor 2α (eIF2α) to inhibit global protein synthesis. Plasmodium, the protozoan that causes malaria, expresses three eIF2α kinases: IK1, IK2, and PK4. Like GCN2, IK1 regulates stress response to amino acid starvation. IK2 inhibits development of malaria sporozoites present in the mosquito salivary glands. Here we show that the phosphorylation by PK4 of the regulatory serine 59 of Plasmodium eIF2α is essential for the completion of the parasite's erythrocytic cycle that causes disease in humans. PK4 activity leads to the arrest of global protein synthesis in schizonts, where ontogeny of daughter merozoites takes place, and in gametocytes that infect Anopheles mosquitoes. The implication of these findings is that drugs that reduce PK4 activity should alleviate disease and inhibit malaria transmission.
Natural Sciences in General