The glycophorin C N-linked glycan is a critical component of the ligand for the Plasmodium falciparum erythrocyte receptor BAEBL

Proc Natl Acad Sci U S A. 2006 Feb 14;103(7):2358-62. doi: 10.1073/pnas.0510648103. Epub 2006 Feb 6.


Plasmodium vivax uses a single member of the Duffy binding-like (DBL) receptor family to invade erythrocytes and is not found in West Africa where its erythrocyte ligand, the Duffy blood group antigen, is missing. In contrast, Plasmodium falciparum expresses four members of the DBL family, and remarkably, single-point mutations of two of these receptors (BAEBL and JESEBL) bind to entirely different erythrocyte ligands, greatly expanding the range of erythrocytes that P. falciparum can invade. In this article, we describe the molecular basis of the binding specificity for one BAEBL variant (VSTK) that binds to glycophorin C. We demonstrate that soluble glycophorin C completely blocks the binding of BAEBL (VSTK) to human erythrocytes, requiring 0.7 microM for 50% inhibition, a concentration similar to that required by glycophorin A to block the binding of erythrocyte-binding antigen 175 to erythrocytes. BAEBL (VSTK) does not bind to Gerbich-negative erythrocytes that express a truncated form of glycophorin C because it lacks exon 3. The N-linked oligosaccharide of Gerbich-negative glycophorin C has a markedly different composition than the wild-type glycophorin C. Moreover, removal of the N-linked oligosaccharide from the wild-type glycophorin C eliminates its ability to inhibit binding of BAEBL (VSTK) to erythrocytes. These findings are consistent with the ligand for BAEBL (VSTK) being, in part, the N-linked oligosaccharide and suggest that single-point mutations in BAEBL allow P. falciparum to recognize oligosaccharides on different erythrocyte surface glycoproteins or glycolipids, greatly increasing its invasion range.

Publication types

  • Research Support, N.I.H., Extramural
  • Research Support, N.I.H., Intramural

MeSH terms

  • Animals
  • Carrier Proteins / drug effects*
  • Carrier Proteins / genetics
  • Carrier Proteins / metabolism*
  • Erythrocytes / drug effects
  • Erythrocytes / metabolism
  • Glycophorins / chemistry*
  • Glycophorins / pharmacology*
  • Humans
  • Ligands
  • Membrane Proteins
  • Mutation
  • Oligosaccharides / chemistry
  • Plasmodium falciparum / physiology*
  • Polysaccharides / chemistry
  • Protozoan Proteins / drug effects*
  • Protozoan Proteins / genetics
  • Protozoan Proteins / metabolism*


  • Carrier Proteins
  • Glycophorins
  • Ligands
  • Membrane Proteins
  • Oligosaccharides
  • Polysaccharides
  • Protozoan Proteins
  • erythrocyte binding protein-2, Plasmodium falciparum