The Plasmodium falciparum STEVOR multigene family mediates antigenic variation of the infected erythrocyte

PLoS Pathog. 2009 Feb;5(2):e1000307. doi: 10.1371/journal.ppat.1000307. Epub 2009 Feb 20.


Modifications of the Plasmodium falciparum-infected red blood cell (iRBC) surface have been linked to parasite-associated pathology. Such modifications enable the parasite to establish long-lasting chronic infection by evading antibody mediate immune recognition and splenic clearance. With the exception of the well-demonstrated roles of var-encoded PfEMP1 in virulence and immune evasion, the biological significance of other variant surface antigens (rif and stevor) is largely unknown. While PfEMP1 and RIFIN have been located on the iRBC surface, recent studies have located STEVOR at the iRBC membrane where it may be exposed on the erythrocyte surface. To investigate the role of STEVOR in more detail, we have developed antibodies against two putative STEVOR proteins and used a combination of indirect immunofluorescence assays (IFA), live IFA, flow cytometry, as well as agglutination assays, which enable us to demonstrate that STEVOR is clonally variant at the surface of schizont stage parasites. Crucially, expression of different STEVOR on the surface of the iRBC changes the antigenic property of the parasite. Taken together, our data for the first time demonstrate that STEVOR plays a role in creating antigenic diversity of schizont stage parasites, thereby adding additional complexity to the immunogenic properties of the iRBC. Furthermore, it clearly demonstrates that to obtain a complete understanding of how parasite-induced pathology is linked to variation on the surface of the iRBC, focusing the interactions of multiple multigene families needs to be considered.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Agglutination Tests
  • Animals
  • Antigenic Variation / physiology*
  • Antigens, Protozoan / genetics*
  • Antigens, Protozoan / metabolism
  • Cells, Cultured
  • Erythrocyte Membrane / metabolism
  • Erythrocytes / metabolism
  • Erythrocytes / parasitology*
  • Humans
  • Membrane Proteins / genetics
  • Membrane Proteins / metabolism
  • Oligonucleotide Array Sequence Analysis
  • Plasmodium falciparum / genetics*
  • Protozoan Proteins / genetics
  • Protozoan Proteins / metabolism
  • Reproducibility of Results
  • Schizonts
  • Trophozoites


  • Antigens, Protozoan
  • Membrane Proteins
  • Protozoan Proteins
  • STEVOR antigen, Plasmodium falciparum