Evidence for vesicle-mediated trafficking of parasite proteins to the host cell cytosol and erythrocyte surface membrane in Plasmodium falciparum infected erythrocytes

Mol Biochem Parasitol. 2000 Feb 25;106(1):131-45. doi: 10.1016/s0166-6851(99)00207-8.


Plasmodium falciparum malaria parasites actively remodel the host cell cytosol and plasma membrane during the erythrocytic cycle. The focus of this investigation was to characterize intra-parasitic and -erythrocytic secretory pathways. Electron-dense vesicles, similar in appearance to mammalian secretory vesicles were detected in proximity to smooth tubo-vesicular elements at the periphery of the parasite cytoplasm in mature parasites by transmission electron microscopy. Vesicles (60-100 nm diameter), which appeared to be coated, were visualized on the erythrocytic side of the parasite vacuolar membrane and in the erythrocyte cytosol. The vesicles seemed to bind to and fuse with the erythrocyte membrane, giving rise to cup-shaped electron-dense structures, which might be intermediates in knob structure formation. Treatment of mature parasites with aluminum tetrafluoride, an activator of GTP-binding proteins, resulted in the accumulation of the vesicles with an electron-dense limiting membrane in the erythrocyte cytosol into multiple vesicle strings. These vesicle complexes were often associated with and closely abutted the erythrocyte membrane, but were apparently prevented from fusing by the aluminum fluoride treatment. The parasite proteins PfEMP1 and PfEMP3 were found by immunoelectron microscopy to be associated with these vesicles, suggesting they are responsible for transporting these proteins to the erythrocyte membrane.

Publication types

  • Research Support, U.S. Gov't, P.H.S.

MeSH terms

  • Aluminum Compounds / pharmacology
  • Animals
  • Cytosol / metabolism
  • Cytosol / parasitology
  • Erythrocyte Membrane / metabolism
  • Erythrocyte Membrane / parasitology
  • Erythrocytes / metabolism
  • Erythrocytes / parasitology*
  • Erythrocytes / ultrastructure
  • Fluorides / pharmacology
  • Humans
  • Immunohistochemistry
  • Membrane Proteins / analysis
  • Membrane Proteins / metabolism
  • Microscopy, Electron
  • Plasmodium falciparum / drug effects
  • Plasmodium falciparum / metabolism*
  • Plasmodium falciparum / ultrastructure
  • Protozoan Proteins / analysis
  • Protozoan Proteins / metabolism*


  • Aluminum Compounds
  • Membrane Proteins
  • Protozoan Proteins
  • erythrocyte membrane protein 1, Plasmodium falciparum
  • tetrafluoroaluminate
  • Fluorides