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Microneme proteins are secreted from apicomplexan parasites during invasion of host cells and they play crucial roles in parasite-host cell adhesion. EtMIC4 is a 240 kDa transmembrane protein from Eimeria tenella that contains 31 tandemly arranged epidermal growth factor (EGF), like repeats within its extracellular domain. The majority of these repeats have calcium binding (cb) consensus sequences. Little is known about cbEGFs in apicomplexan parasites but their presence in microneme proteins suggests that they may contribute to parasite-host interactions. To investigate the potential role of cbEGFs we have expressed and correctly refolded a cbEGF triplet from EtMIC4 (cbEGF7-9) and demonstrated that this triplet binds calcium. Circular dichroism spectroscopic analysis of cbEGF7-9 demonstrates that the molecule undergoes a gradual change in conformation with increasing levels of calcium. In the presence of calcium, the triplet becomes resistant to proteolytic degradation by a variety of proteases, a characteristic feature of cbEGF repeats from higher eukaryotic proteins, such as fibrillin, suggesting that calcium binding induces the formation of a rigid conformation. Moreover, mass spectrometric mapping of the cleavage sites that are protected by calcium shows that these sites are located both close to and distant from the calcium binding sites, indicating that protection is not due to steric hindrance by calcium ions, but rather due to the overall conformation adopted by the triplet in the presence of calcium. Thus, the tandemly-arranged cbEGF repeats within EtMIC4 provide a mechanism whereby, in the calcium-rich extracellular environment, the molecule could adopt a protease-resistant, rigid structure that could favour its interaction with host cell ligands.

Original publication




Journal article


Mol Biochem Parasitol

Publication Date





192 - 199


Amino Acid Sequence, Animals, Calcium, Cell Adhesion Molecules, Circular Dichroism, Eimeria tenella, Epidermal Growth Factor, Mass Spectrometry, Molecular Sequence Data, Peptide Hydrolases, Protein Binding, Protein Conformation, Protein Structure, Tertiary, Protozoan Proteins