Developmental-stage-specific triacylglycerol biosynthesis, degradation and trafficking as lipid bodies in Plasmodium falciparum-infected erythrocytes

J Cell Sci. 2004 Mar 15;117(Pt 8):1469-80. doi: 10.1242/jcs.00988.


Triacylglycerol (TAG) serves as a major energy storage molecule in eukaryotes. In Plasmodium, however, this established function of TAG appears unlikely, despite detecting previously considerable amount of TAG associated with intraerythrocytic parasites, because plasmodial cells have very little capacity to oxidize fatty acids. Thus, it is plausible that TAG and its biosynthesis in Plasmodium have other functions. As a first step in understanding the biological significance of TAG and its biosynthesis to the intraerythrocytic proliferation of Plasmodium falciparum, we performed detailed characterization of TAG metabolism and trafficking in parasitized erythrocyte. Metabolic labeling using radiolabeled-oleic and palmitic acids in association with serum albumin, which have been shown to be among the serum essential factors for intraerythrocytic proliferation of P. falciparum, revealed that accumulation of TAG was strikingly pronounced from trophozoite to schizont, whereas TAG degradation became active from schizont to segmented schizont; the consequent products, free fatty acids, were released into the medium during schizont rupture and/or merozoite release. These results were further supported by visualization of lipid bodies through immunofluorescence and electron microscopy. At the schizont stages, there is some evidence that the lipid bodies are partly localized in the parasitophorous vacuole. Interestingly, the discrete formation and/or trafficking of lipid bodies are inhibited by brefeldin A and trifluoperazine. Inhibition by trifluoperazine hints at least that a de novo TAG biosynthetic pathway via phosphatidic acid contributes to lipid body formation. Indeed, biochemical analysis reveals a higher activity of acyl-CoA:diacylglycerol acyltransferase, the principal enzyme in the sn-glycerol-3-phosphate pathway for TAG synthesis, at trophozoite and schizont stages. Together, these results establish that TAG metabolism and trafficking in P. falciparum-infected erythrocyte occurs in a stage-specific manner during the intraerythrocytic cycle and we propose that these unique and dynamic cellular events participate during schizont rupture and/or merozoite release.

MeSH terms

  • Animals
  • Azo Compounds
  • Biological Transport / drug effects
  • Boron Compounds
  • Brefeldin A / pharmacology
  • Cells, Cultured
  • Coloring Agents
  • Erythrocytes / metabolism
  • Erythrocytes / parasitology*
  • Erythrocytes / ultrastructure
  • Fluorescent Dyes
  • Lipid Metabolism*
  • Lipids / biosynthesis
  • Microscopy, Fluorescence
  • Oxazines
  • Plasmodium falciparum / growth & development
  • Plasmodium falciparum / metabolism*
  • Trifluoperazine / pharmacology
  • Triglycerides / biosynthesis*


  • 4,4-difluoro-4-bora-3a,4a-diaza-s-indacene
  • Azo Compounds
  • Boron Compounds
  • Coloring Agents
  • Fluorescent Dyes
  • Lipids
  • Oxazines
  • Triglycerides
  • Brefeldin A
  • Trifluoperazine
  • sudan III
  • nile red