Binding of Plasmodium merozoite proteins RON2 and AMA1 triggers commitment to invasion

Proc Natl Acad Sci U S A. 2011 Aug 9;108(32):13275-80. doi: 10.1073/pnas.1110303108. Epub 2011 Jul 25.


The commitment of Plasmodium merozoites to invade red blood cells (RBCs) is marked by the formation of a junction between the merozoite and the RBC and the coordinated induction of the parasitophorous vacuole. Despite its importance, the molecular events underlying the parasite's commitment to invasion are not well understood. Here we show that the interaction of two parasite proteins, RON2 and AMA1, known to be critical for invasion, is essential to trigger junction formation. Using antibodies (Abs) that bind near the hydrophobic pocket of AMA1 and AMA1 mutated in the pocket, we identified RON2's binding site on AMA1. Abs specific for the AMA1 pocket blocked junction formation and the induction of the parasitophorous vacuole. We also identified the critical residues in the RON2 peptide (previously shown to bind AMA1) that are required for binding to the AMA1 pocket, namely, two conserved, disulfide-linked cysteines. The RON2 peptide blocked junction formation but, unlike the AMA1-specific Ab, did not block formation of the parasitophorous vacuole, indicating that formation of the junction and parasitophorous vacuole are molecularly distinct steps in the invasion process. Collectively, these results identify the binding of RON2 to the hydrophobic pocket of AMA1 as the step that commits Plasmodium merozoites to RBC invasion and point to RON2 as a potential vaccine candidate.

Publication types

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

MeSH terms

  • Amino Acid Sequence
  • Animals
  • Antibodies, Protozoan / immunology
  • Binding Sites
  • Conserved Sequence / genetics
  • Cysteine / metabolism
  • Cytochalasin D / pharmacology
  • Erythrocytes / drug effects
  • Erythrocytes / parasitology
  • Fructose-Bisphosphate Aldolase / chemistry
  • Fructose-Bisphosphate Aldolase / metabolism
  • Hydrophobic and Hydrophilic Interactions / drug effects
  • Merozoites / drug effects
  • Merozoites / metabolism*
  • Merozoites / ultrastructure
  • Models, Biological
  • Molecular Sequence Data
  • Plasmodium falciparum / drug effects
  • Plasmodium falciparum / metabolism*
  • Plasmodium falciparum / pathogenicity*
  • Plasmodium falciparum / ultrastructure
  • Protein Binding / drug effects
  • Protein Transport / drug effects
  • Protozoan Proteins / chemistry
  • Protozoan Proteins / metabolism*
  • Structure-Activity Relationship


  • Antibodies, Protozoan
  • Protozoan Proteins
  • Cytochalasin D
  • Fructose-Bisphosphate Aldolase
  • Cysteine