Analysis of Single-cell Gene Transcription by RNA Fluorescent In Situ Hybridization (FISH)
Adhesion of Plasmodium falciparum infected erythrocytes (IE) to human endothelial receptors during malaria infections is mediated by expression of PfEMP1 protein variants encoded by the var genes. The haploid P. falciparum genome harbors approximately 60 different var genes of which only one has been believed to be transcribed per cell at a time during the blood stage of the infection. How such mutually exclusive regulation of var gene transcription is achieved is unclear, as is the identification of individual var genes or sub-groups of var genes associated with different receptors and the consequence of differential binding on the clinical outcome of P. falciparum infections. Recently, the mutually exclusive transcription paradigm has been called into doubt by transcription assays based on individual P. falciparum transcript identification in single infected erythrocytic cells using RNA fluorescent in situ hybridization (FISH) analysis of var gene transcription by the parasite in individual nuclei of P. falciparum IE1. Here, we present a detailed protocol for carrying out the RNA-FISH methodology for analysis of var gene transcription in single-nuclei of P. falciparum infected human erythrocytes. The method is based on the use of digoxigenin- and biotin- labeled antisense RNA probes using the TSA Plus Fluorescence Palette System2 (Perkin Elmer), microscopic analyses and freshly selected P. falciparum IE. The in situ hybridization method can be used to monitor transcription and regulation of a variety of genes expressed during the different stages of the P. falciparum life cycle and is adaptable to other malaria parasite species and other organisms and cell types.