Deformability limits of Plasmodium falciparum-infected red blood cells

Cell Microbiol. 2009 Sep;11(9):1340-53. doi: 10.1111/j.1462-5822.2009.01334.x. Epub 2009 Apr 30.


Splenic filtration of infected red blood cells (RBCs) may contribute to innate immunity and variable outcomes of malaria infections. We show that filterability of individual RBCs is well predicted by the minimum cylindrical diameter (MCD) which is calculated from a RBC's surface area and volume. The MCD describes the smallest diameter tube or smallest pore that a cell may fit through without increasing its surface area. A microfluidic device was developed to measure the MCD from thousands of individual infected RBCs (IRBCs) and uninfected RBCs (URBCs). Average MCD changes during the blood-stage cycle of Plasmodium falciparum were tracked for the cytoadherent strain ITG and the knobless strain Dd2. The MCD values for IRBCs and URBCs raise several new intriguing insights into how the spleen may remove IRBCs: some early-stage ring-IRBCs, and not just late-stage schizont-IRBCs, may be highly susceptible to filtration. In addition, knobby parasites may limit surface area expansions and thus confer high MCDs on IRBCs. Finally, URBCs, in culture with IRBCs, show higher surface area loss which makes them more susceptible to filtration than naive URBCs. These findings raise important basic questions about the variable pathology of malaria infections and metabolic process that affect volume and surface area of IRBCs.

Publication types

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

MeSH terms

  • Animals
  • Cell Shape*
  • Erythrocytes / cytology*
  • Erythrocytes / parasitology*
  • Humans
  • Microfluidic Analytical Techniques
  • Plasmodium falciparum / growth & development*