Migration of malaria parasites is powered by a myosin motor that moves actin filaments, which in turn link to adhesive proteins spanning the plasma membrane. The retrograde flow of these adhesins appears to be coupled to forward locomotion. However, the contact dynamics between the parasite and the substrate as well as the generation of forces are complex and their relation to retrograde flow is unclear. Using optical tweezers we found retrograde flow rates up to 15 μm/s contrasting with parasite average speeds of 1-2 μm/s. We found that a surface protein, TLP, functions in reducing retrograde flow for the buildup of adhesive force and that actin dynamics appear optimized for the generation of force but not for maximizing the speed of retrograde flow. These data uncover that TLP acts by modulating actin dynamics or actin filament organization and couples retrograde flow to force production in malaria parasites.
Keywords: Plasmodium; cell migration; gliding motility; laser traps; malaria; sporozoites.