Refractive index maps and membrane dynamics of human red blood cells parasitized by Plasmodium falciparum

Proc Natl Acad Sci U S A. 2008 Sep 16;105(37):13730-5. doi: 10.1073/pnas.0806100105. Epub 2008 Sep 4.


Parasitization by malaria-inducing Plasmodium falciparum leads to structural, biochemical, and mechanical modifications to the host red blood cells (RBCs). To study these modifications, we investigate two intrinsic indicators: the refractive index and membrane fluctuations in P. falciparum-invaded human RBCs (Pf-RBCs). We report experimental connections between these intrinsic indicators and pathological states. By employing two noninvasive optical techniques, tomographic phase microscopy and diffraction phase microscopy, we extract three-dimensional maps of refractive index and nanoscale cell membrane fluctuations in isolated RBCs. Our systematic experiments cover all intraerythrocytic stages of parasite development under physiological and febrile temperatures. These findings offer potential, and sufficiently general, avenues for identifying, through cell membrane dynamics, pathological states that cause or accompany human diseases.

Publication types

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

MeSH terms

  • Animals
  • Cell Shape
  • Cytoplasm
  • Erythrocyte Membrane / metabolism*
  • Erythrocyte Membrane / parasitology
  • Erythrocytes / cytology*
  • Erythrocytes / metabolism
  • Erythrocytes / parasitology*
  • Hemoglobins / metabolism
  • Humans
  • Plasmodium falciparum / physiology*
  • Temperature


  • Hemoglobins