Classification of Adhesive Domains in the Plasmodium Falciparum Erythrocyte Membrane Protein 1 Family

Mol Biochem Parasitol. 2000 Oct;110(2):293-310. doi: 10.1016/s0166-6851(00)00279-6.


The Plasmodium falciparum Erythrocyte Membrane Protein 1 (PfEMP1) family of cytoadherent proteins has a central role in disease from malaria infection. This highly diverse gene family is involved in binding interactions between infected erythrocytes and host cells and is expressed in a clonally variant pattern at the erythrocyte surface. We describe by sequence analysis the structure and domain organization of 20 PfEMP1 from the GenBank database. Four domains comprise the majority of PfEMP1 extracellular sequence: the N-terminal segment (NTS) located at the amino terminus of all PfEMP1, the C2, the Cysteine-rich Interdomain Region (CIDR) and the Duffy Binding-like (DBL) domains. Previous work has shown that CIDR and DBL domains can possess adhesive properties. CIDR domains grouped as three distinct sequence classes (alpha, beta, and gamma) and DBL domains as five sequence classes (alpha, beta, gamma, delta, and epsilon). Consensus motifs are described for the different DBL and CIDR types. Whereas the number of DBL and CIDR domains vary between PfEMP1, PfEMP1 domain architecture is not random in that certain tandem domain associations--such as DBLalphaCIDRalpha, DBLdeltaCIDRbeta, and DBLbetaC2--are preferentially observed. This conservation may have functional significance for PfEMP1 folding, transport, or binding activity. Parasite binding phenotype appears to be a determinant of infected erythrocyte tissue tropism that contributes to parasite survival, transmission, and disease outcome. The sequence classification of DBL and CIDR types may have predictive value for identifying PfEMP1 domains with a particular binding property. This information might be used to develop interventions targeting parasite binding variants that cause disease.

MeSH terms

  • Amino Acid Motifs
  • Amino Acid Sequence
  • Animals
  • Antigenic Variation
  • Antigens, Protozoan / chemistry*
  • Antigens, Protozoan / classification
  • Antigens, Protozoan / genetics
  • Cell Adhesion
  • Cysteine
  • Duffy Blood-Group System / metabolism
  • Molecular Sequence Data
  • Plasmodium falciparum / pathogenicity
  • Plasmodium falciparum / physiology*
  • Protein Structure, Tertiary
  • Protozoan Proteins / chemistry*
  • Protozoan Proteins / classification*
  • Protozoan Proteins / genetics
  • Protozoan Proteins / metabolism
  • Sequence Alignment
  • Structure-Activity Relationship


  • Antigens, Protozoan
  • Duffy Blood-Group System
  • Protozoan Proteins
  • erythrocyte membrane protein 1, Plasmodium falciparum
  • Cysteine

Associated data

  • GENBANK/AL010226