Erythrocytes are remarkably dynamic structures, possessing multiple and complex pathways for regulating cell membrane properties to compensate for the absence of a nucleus and internal membranes. Unlike the invasion strategies of many viruses and bacteria into their eukaryotic hosts, however, the accepted model for malaria parasite entry into human erythrocytes casts the host cell in a largely passive role. This is in contrast to mounting evidence for a suite of dynamic alterations that the erythrocyte membrane undergoes during the rapid process of invasion by the blood stage malaria parasite - the merozoite. Here we review the cellular and molecular basis for merozoite invasion of the erythrocyte and explore the idea that radical changes in the erythrocyte membrane protein and lipid architecture probably accompany this key step in the establishment of human malaria disease.
Keywords: Plasmodium falciparum; cytoskeleton; erythrocyte; malaria; parasitophorous vacuole.
© 2011 Blackwell Publishing Ltd.