Lipid rafts and malaria parasite infection of erythrocytes

Mol Membr Biol. Jan-Feb 2006;23(1):81-8. doi: 10.1080/09687860500473440.


Infection of human erythrocytes by the malarial parasite, Plasmodium falciparum, results in complex membrane sorting and signaling events in the mature erythrocyte. These events appear to rely heavily on proteins resident in erythrocyte lipid rafts. Over the past five years, we and others have undertaken a comprehensive characterization of major proteins present in erythrocyte detergent-resistant membrane lipid rafts and determined which of these proteins traffic to the host-derived membrane that bounds the intraerythrocytic parasite. The data suggest that raft association is necessary but not sufficient for vacuolar recruitment, and that there is likely a mechanism of active uptake of a subset of erythrocyte detergent-resistant membrane proteins. Of the ten internalized proteins, few have been evaluated for a role in malarial entry. The beta(2)-adrenergic receptor and heterotrimeric G protein G(s) signaling pathway proteins regulate invasion. The implications of these differences are discussed. In addition, the latter finding indicates that erythrocytes possess important signaling pathways. These signaling cascades may have important influences on in vivo malarial infection, as well as on erythrocyte membrane flexibility and adhesiveness in sickle cell anemia. With respect to malarial infection, host signaling components alone are not sufficient to induce formation of the malarial vacuole. Parasite proteins are likely to have a major role in making the intraerythrocytic environment conducive for vacuole formation. Such interactions should be the focus of future efforts to understand malarial infection of erythrocytes since host- and parasite-targeted interventions are urgently needed to combat this terrible disease.

Publication types

  • Research Support, N.I.H., Extramural
  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't
  • Review

MeSH terms

  • Animals
  • Erythrocytes / metabolism
  • Erythrocytes / parasitology*
  • GTP-Binding Proteins / blood
  • Humans
  • In Vitro Techniques
  • Malaria, Falciparum / blood
  • Malaria, Falciparum / parasitology
  • Membrane Microdomains / chemistry
  • Membrane Microdomains / metabolism
  • Membrane Microdomains / parasitology*
  • Models, Biological
  • Plasmodium falciparum / growth & development
  • Plasmodium falciparum / pathogenicity*
  • Signal Transduction
  • Vacuoles / metabolism
  • Vacuoles / parasitology


  • GTP-Binding Proteins