Cytosine DNA methylation is an epigenetic mark in most eukaryotic cells that regulates numerous processes, including gene expression and stress responses. We performed a genome-wide analysis of DNA methylation in the human malaria parasite Plasmodium falciparum. We mapped the positions of methylated cytosines and identified a single functional DNA methyltransferase (Plasmodium falciparum DNA methyltransferase; PfDNMT) that may mediate these genomic modifications. These analyses revealed that the malaria genome is asymmetrically methylated and shares common features with undifferentiated plant and mammalian cells. Notably, core promoters are hypomethylated, and transcript levels correlate with intraexonic methylation. Additionally, there are sharp methylation transitions at nucleosome and exon-intron boundaries. These data suggest that DNA methylation could regulate virulence gene expression and transcription elongation. Furthermore, the broad range of action of DNA methylation and the uniqueness of PfDNMT suggest that the methylation pathway is a potential target for antimalarial strategies.
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