Membrane transport in the malaria-infected erythrocyte

Physiol Rev. 2001 Apr;81(2):495-537. doi: 10.1152/physrev.2001.81.2.495.


The malaria parasite is a unicellular eukaryotic organism which, during the course of its complex life cycle, invades the red blood cells of its vertebrate host. As it grows and multiplies within its host blood cell, the parasite modifies the membrane permeability and cytosolic composition of the host cell. The intracellular parasite is enclosed within a so-called parasitophorous vacuolar membrane, tubular extensions of which radiate out into the host cell compartment. Like all eukaryote cells, the parasite has at its surface a plasma membrane, as well as having a variety of internal membrane-bound organelles that perform a range of functions. This review focuses on the transport properties of the different membranes of the malaria-infected erythrocyte, as well as on the role played by the various membrane transport systems in the uptake of solutes from the extracellular medium, the disposal of metabolic wastes, and the origin and maintenance of electrochemical ion gradients. Such systems are of considerable interest from the point of view of antimalarial chemotherapy, both as drug targets in their own right and as routes for targeting cytotoxic agents into the intracellular parasite.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't
  • Review

MeSH terms

  • Animals
  • Anopheles / parasitology
  • Biological Transport
  • Erythrocyte Membrane / physiology*
  • Erythrocytes / parasitology*
  • Erythrocytes / physiology*
  • Humans
  • Life Cycle Stages
  • Malaria / blood*
  • Organelles / physiology
  • Plasmodium / physiology*