The Modular Circuitry of Apicomplexan Cell Division Plasticity

Marc Jan Gubbels, Isabelle Coppens, Kourosh Zarringhalam, Manoj T. Duraisingh, Klemens Engelberg

Research output: Contribution to journalReview articlepeer-review


The close-knit group of apicomplexan parasites displays a wide variety of cell division modes, which differ between parasites as well as between different life stages within a single parasite species. The beginning and endpoint of the asexual replication cycles is a ‘zoite’ harboring the defining apical organelles required for host cell invasion. However, the number of zoites produced per division round varies dramatically and can unfold in several different ways. This plasticity of the cell division cycle originates from a combination of hard-wired developmental programs modulated by environmental triggers. Although the environmental triggers and sensors differ between species and developmental stages, widely conserved secondary messengers mediate the signal transduction pathways. These environmental and genetic input integrate in division-mode specific chromosome organization and chromatin modifications that set the stage for each division mode. Cell cycle progression is conveyed by a smorgasbord of positively and negatively acting transcription factors, often acting in concert with epigenetic reader complexes, that can vary dramatically between species as well as division modes. A unique set of cell cycle regulators with spatially distinct localization patterns insert discrete check points which permit individual control and can uncouple general cell cycle progression from nuclear amplification. Clusters of expressed genes are grouped into four functional modules seen in all division modes: 1. mother cytoskeleton disassembly; 2. DNA replication and segregation (D&S); 3. karyokinesis; 4. zoite assembly. A plug-and-play strategy results in the variety of extant division modes. The timing of mother cytoskeleton disassembly is hard-wired at the species level for asexual division modes: it is either the first step, or it is the last step. In the former scenario zoite assembly occurs at the plasma membrane (external budding), and in the latter scenario zoites are assembled in the cytoplasm (internal budding). The number of times each other module is repeated can vary regardless of this first decision, and defines the modes of cell division: schizogony, binary fission, endodyogeny, endopolygeny.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Article number670049
JournalFrontiers in Cellular and Infection Microbiology
StatePublished - Apr 12 2021


  • Apicomplexa
  • binary fission
  • cell cycle
  • cell division
  • endodyogeny
  • endopolygeny
  • karyokinesis
  • schizogony

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Microbiology
  • Immunology
  • Microbiology (medical)
  • Infectious Diseases


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