The apicomplexan glideosome and adhesins - Structures and function

J Struct Biol. 2015 May;190(2):93-114. doi: 10.1016/j.jsb.2015.02.008. Epub 2015 Mar 9.


The apicomplexan family of pathogens, which includes Plasmodium spp. and Toxoplasma gondii, are primarily obligate intracellular parasites and invade multiple cell types. These parasites express extracellular membrane protein receptors, adhesins, to form specific pathogen-host cell interaction complexes. Various adhesins are used to invade a variety of cell types. The receptors are linked to an actomyosin motor, which is part of a complex comprised of many proteins known as the invasion machinery or glideosome. To date, reviews on invasion have focused primarily on the molecular pathways and signals of invasion, with little or no structural information presented. Over 75 structures of parasite receptors and glideosome proteins have been deposited with the Protein Data Bank. These structures include adhesins, motor proteins, bridging proteins, inner membrane complex and cytoskeletal proteins, as well as co-crystal structures with peptides and antibodies. These structures provide information regarding key interactions necessary for target receptor engagement, machinery complex formation, how force is transmitted, and the basis of inhibitory antibodies. Additionally, these structures can provide starting points for the development of antibodies and inhibitory molecules targeting protein-protein interactions, with the aim to inhibit invasion. This review provides an overview of the parasite adhesin protein families, the glideosome components, glideosome architecture, and discuss recent work regarding alternative models.

Keywords: Adhesins; Apicomplexa; Cryptosporidium; Glideosome; Invasion machinery; Malaria; Plasmodium; Toxoplasma.

Publication types

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

MeSH terms

  • Actomyosin / metabolism*
  • Apicomplexa / genetics*
  • Apicomplexa / metabolism*
  • Databases, Protein
  • Host-Pathogen Interactions / genetics
  • Host-Pathogen Interactions / physiology*
  • Membrane Proteins / genetics
  • Membrane Proteins / metabolism*
  • Models, Molecular*
  • Multiprotein Complexes / metabolism*
  • Protein Binding
  • Protein Conformation
  • Protein Interaction Mapping
  • Protein Structure, Tertiary


  • Membrane Proteins
  • Multiprotein Complexes
  • Actomyosin