The shape and mechanical properties of human red cells were modified in several ways and the consequences for the efficiency of invasion by Plasmodium falciparum in culture were investigated. Inhibition of invasion by depletion of ATP was shown to be unrelated to cell shape or deformability changes. Treatment of cells with N-ethylmaleimide (NEM), which dissociates some 70% of the native spectrin tetramers into the dimer, grossly reduced deformation of the cells under shear and increased by a factor of two or more the shear elastic modulus, as measured by the micropipette aspiration technique. Cells thus treated were efficiently invaded by P. falciparum (ca. 75% of control). In a population of cells pretreated with chlorpromazine, parasites were found in stomatocytic cells which were highly undeformable under shear. There was also considerable invasion into cells from subjects with hereditary pyropoikilocytosis, and two types of elliptocytosis. Cells treated with wheat germ agglutinin showed a dose-dependent increase in rigidity; a fivefold increase in elastic modulus (with total loss of deformation under shear in our conditions) still permitted invasion at a level of 50% of the control. The results suggest that gross mechanical properties of the membrane per se, at least within any physiologically relevant range, are unlikely to be the primary determinant of malarial invasion; this may instead be linked to the freedom of membrane proteins to migrate in the course of entry of the parasite.