Plasmodium parasites, along with their Piroplasm relatives, have caused malaria-like illnesses in terrestrial mammals for millions of years. Several Plasmodium-protective alleles have recently evolved in human populations, but little is known about host adaptation to blood parasites over deeper evolutionary timescales. In this work, we analyze mammalian adaptation in ~500 Plasmodium- or Piroplasm- interacting proteins (PPIPs) manually curated from the scientific literature. We show that (i) PPIPs are enriched for both immune functions and pleiotropy with other pathogens, and (ii) the rate of adaptation across mammals is significantly elevated in PPIPs, compared to carefully matched control proteins. PPIPs with high pathogen pleiotropy show the strongest signatures of adaptation, but this pattern is fully explained by their immune enrichment. Several pieces of evidence suggest that blood parasites specifically have imposed selection on PPIPs. First, even non-immune PPIPs that lack interactions with other pathogens have adapted at twice the rate of matched controls. Second, PPIP adaptation is linked to high expression in the liver, a critical organ in the parasite life cycle. Finally, our detailed investigation of alpha-spectrin, a major red blood cell membrane protein, shows that residues with particularly high rates of adaptation are those known to interact specifically with P. falciparum. Overall, we show that host proteins that interact with Plasmodium and Piroplasm parasites have experienced elevated rates of adaptation across mammals, and provide evidence that some of this adaptation has likely been driven by blood parasites.
ASJC Scopus subject areas
- Ecology, Evolution, Behavior and Systematics
- Molecular Biology
- Cancer Research