The Molecular Basis of Erythrocyte Invasion by Malaria Parasites

Cell Host Microbe. 2017 Aug 9;22(2):232-245. doi: 10.1016/j.chom.2017.07.003.


Plasmodium species cause malaria by proliferating in human erythrocytes. Invasion of immunologically privileged erythrocytes provides a relatively protective niche as well as access to a rich source of nutrients. Plasmodium spp. target erythrocytes of different ages, but share a common mechanism of invasion. Specific engagement of erythrocyte receptors defines target cell tropism, activating downstream events and resulting in the physical penetration of the erythrocyte, powered by the parasite's actinomyosin-based motor. Here we review the latest in our understanding of the molecular composition of this highly complex and fascinating biological process.

Keywords: Plasmodium; erythrocyte; falciparum; invasion; malaria; merozoite; vivax.

Publication types

  • Review

MeSH terms

  • Animals
  • Antibodies / immunology
  • Antigens, Protozoan / immunology
  • Erythrocytes / parasitology*
  • Host-Parasite Interactions / physiology*
  • Humans
  • Malaria / blood
  • Malaria / parasitology*
  • Merozoites / physiology
  • Plasmodium / immunology
  • Plasmodium / pathogenicity
  • Plasmodium / physiology*
  • Signal Transduction


  • Antibodies
  • Antigens, Protozoan