The malaria parasite progressively dismantles the host erythrocyte cytoskeleton for efficient egress

Mol Cell Proteomics. 2011 Dec;10(12):M111.010678. doi: 10.1074/mcp.M111.010678. Epub 2011 Sep 8.


Plasmodium falciparum is an obligate intracellular pathogen responsible for worldwide morbidity and mortality. This parasite establishes a parasitophorous vacuole within infected red blood cells wherein it differentiates into multiple daughter cells that must rupture their host cells to continue another infectious cycle. Using atomic force microscopy, we establish that progressive macrostructural changes occur to the host cell cytoskeleton during the last 15 h of the erythrocytic life cycle. We used a comparative proteomics approach to determine changes in the membrane proteome of infected red blood cells during the final steps of parasite development that lead to egress. Mass spectrometry-based analysis comparing the red blood cell membrane proteome in uninfected red blood cells to that of infected red blood cells and postrupture vesicles highlighted two temporally distinct events; (Hay, S. I., et al. (2009). A world malaria map: Plasmodium falciparum endemicity in 2007. PLoS Med. 6, e1000048) the striking loss of cytoskeletal adaptor proteins that are part of the junctional complex, including α/β-adducin and tropomyosin, correlating temporally with the emergence of large holes in the cytoskeleton seen by AFM as early ~35 h postinvasion, and (Maier, A. G., et al. (2008) Exported proteins required for virulence and rigidity of Plasmodium falciparum-infected human erythrocytes. Cell 134, 48-61) large-scale proteolysis of the cytoskeleton during rupture ~48 h postinvasion, mediated by host calpain-1. We thus propose a sequential mechanism whereby parasites first remove a selected set of cytoskeletal adaptor proteins to weaken the host membrane and then use host calpain-1 to dismantle the remaining cytoskeleton, leading to red blood cell membrane collapse and parasite release.

Publication types

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

MeSH terms

  • Calmodulin-Binding Proteins / metabolism
  • Calpain / metabolism
  • Cell Membrane / metabolism
  • Cell Membrane / parasitology
  • Cells, Cultured
  • Cytoskeletal Proteins / metabolism
  • Cytoskeleton / metabolism*
  • Erythrocytes / metabolism
  • Erythrocytes / parasitology*
  • Erythrocytes / ultrastructure
  • Host-Parasite Interactions*
  • Humans
  • Membrane Proteins / chemistry
  • Membrane Proteins / metabolism
  • Merozoites
  • Microscopy, Atomic Force
  • Peptide Fragments / chemistry
  • Peptide Fragments / metabolism
  • Plasmodium falciparum / physiology*
  • Proteolysis
  • Tandem Mass Spectrometry


  • ADD2 protein, human
  • Calmodulin-Binding Proteins
  • Cytoskeletal Proteins
  • Membrane Proteins
  • Peptide Fragments
  • adducin
  • Calpain
  • CAPN1 protein, human