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The particular virulence of the human malaria parasite Plasmodium falciparum derives from export of parasite-encoded proteins to the surface of the mature erythrocytes in which it resides. The mechanisms and machinery for the export of proteins to the erythrocyte membrane are largely unknown. In other eukaryotic cells, cholesterol-rich membrane microdomains or "rafts" have been shown to play an important role in the export of proteins to the cell surface. Our data suggest that depletion of cholesterol from the erythrocyte membrane with methyl-beta-cyclodextrin significantly inhibits the delivery of the major virulence factor P. falciparum erythrocyte membrane protein 1 (PfEMP1). The trafficking defect appears to lie at the level of transfer of PfEMP1 from parasite-derived membranous structures within the infected erythrocyte cytoplasm, known as the Maurer's clefts, to the erythrocyte membrane. Thus our data suggest that delivery of this key cytoadherence-mediating protein to the host erythrocyte membrane involves insertion of PfEMP1 at cholesterol-rich microdomains. GTP-dependent vesicle budding and fusion events are also involved in many trafficking processes. To determine whether GTP-dependent events are involved in PfEMP1 trafficking, we have incorporated non-membrane-permeating GTP analogs inside resealed erythrocytes. Although these nonhydrolyzable GTP analogs reduced erythrocyte invasion efficiency and partially retarded growth of the intracellular parasite, they appeared to have little direct effect on PfEMP1 trafficking.

Original publication




Journal article


Eukaryot Cell

Publication Date





849 - 860


Animals, CD59 Antigens, Cholesterol, Cytosol, Erythrocyte Membrane, Erythrocytes, Guanosine 5'-O-(3-Thiotriphosphate), Guanosine Triphosphate, Membrane Microdomains, Plasmodium falciparum, Protein Transport, Protozoan Proteins, beta-Cyclodextrins