Proteoglycans mediate malaria sporozoite targeting to the liver

Mol Microbiol. 2002 Aug;45(3):637-51. doi: 10.1046/j.1365-2958.2002.03057.x.


Malaria sporozoites are rapidly targeted to the liver where they pass through Kupffer cells and infect hepatocytes, their initial site of replication in the mammalian host. We show that sporozoites, as well as their major surface proteins, the CS protein and TRAP, recognize distinct cell type-specific surface proteoglycans from primary Kupffer cells, hepatocytes and stellate cells, but not from sinusoidal endothelia. Recombinant Plasmodium falciparum CS protein and TRAP bind to heparan sulphate on hepatocytes and both heparan and chondroitin sulphate proteoglycans on stellate cells. On Kupffer cells, CS protein predominantly recognizes chondroitin sulphate, whereas TRAP binding is glycosaminoglycan independent. Plasmodium berghei sporozoites attach to heparan sulphate on hepatocytes and stellate cells, whereas Kupffer cell recognition involves both chondroitin sulphate and heparan sulphate proteoglycans. CS protein also interacts with secreted proteoglycans from stellate cells, the major producers of extracellular matrix in the liver. In situ binding studies using frozen liver sections indicate that the majority of the CS protein binding sites are associated with these matrix proteoglycans. Our data suggest that sporozoites are first arrested in the sinusoid by binding to extracellular matrix proteoglycans and then recognize proteoglycans on the surface of Kupffer cells, which they use to traverse the sinusoidal cell barrier.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Animals
  • Chondroitinases and Chondroitin Lyases / metabolism
  • Heparan Sulfate Proteoglycans / metabolism
  • Kupffer Cells
  • Liver / parasitology*
  • Malaria, Falciparum / parasitology
  • Plasmodium / physiology*
  • Protein Binding
  • Proteoglycans / metabolism*
  • Proteoglycans / physiology*
  • Protozoan Proteins / physiology*
  • Rats


  • Heparan Sulfate Proteoglycans
  • Proteoglycans
  • Protozoan Proteins
  • Chondroitinases and Chondroitin Lyases