A family affair: var genes, PfEMP1 binding, and malaria disease

Curr Opin Microbiol. 2006 Aug;9(4):374-80. doi: 10.1016/j.mib.2006.06.006. Epub 2006 Jun 30.


An immunovariant adhesion protein family in Plasmodium falciparum named erythrocyte membrane protein 1 (PfEMP1), encoded by var genes, is responsible for both antigenic variation and cytoadhesion of infected erythrocytes at blood microvasculature sites throughout the body. Elucidation of the genome sequence of P. falciparum has revealed that var genes can be classified into different groups, each with distinct 5' flanking sequences, chromosomal locations and gene orientations. Recent binding and serological comparisons suggest that this genomic organization might cause var genes to diversify into separately recombining adhesion groups that have different roles in infection and disease. Detailed understanding of PfEMP1 expression and receptor binding mechanisms during infection and of the antigenic relatedness of disease variants might lead to new approaches in prevention of malaria disease.

Publication types

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

MeSH terms

  • Animals
  • Evolution, Molecular
  • Genome, Protozoan
  • Humans
  • Malaria, Falciparum / etiology*
  • Plasmodium falciparum / genetics
  • Protozoan Proteins / genetics*
  • Protozoan Proteins / metabolism
  • Recombination, Genetic


  • Protozoan Proteins
  • erythrocyte membrane protein 1, Plasmodium falciparum