Post-translational protein regulation allows for fine-tuning of cellular functions and involves a wide range of modifications, including ubiquitin and ubiquitin-like modifiers (Ubls). The dynamic balance of Ubl conjugation and removal shapes the fates of target substrates, in turn modulating various cellular processes. The mechanistic aspects of Ubl pathways and their biological roles have been largely established in yeast, plants, and mammalian cells. However, these modifiers may be utilised differently in highly specialised and divergent organisms, such as parasitic protozoa. In this review, we explore how these parasites employ Ubls, in particular SUMO, NEDD8, ATG8, ATG12, URM1, and UFM1, to regulate their unconventional cellular physiology. We discuss emerging data that provide evidence of Ubl-mediated regulation of unique parasite-specific processes, as well as the distinctive features of Ubl pathways in parasitic protozoa. We also highlight the potential to leverage these essential regulators and their cognate enzymatic machinery for development of therapeutics to protect against the diseases caused by protozoan parasites.
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