Morphological changes in erythrocytes induced by malarial parasites

Biol Cell. 1988;64(2):173-81. doi: 10.1016/0248-4900(88)90077-9.


Host cell alterations induced by Plasmodium falciparum, P. brasilianum, P. vivax and P. malariae were described by electron microscopy and post-embedding immunoelectron microscopy. P. falciparum infection induces knobs, electron-dense material and clefts in the erythrocyte. Clefts are involved in exporting P. falciparum antigen from the parasite to the erythrocyte membrane. P. falciparum antigen is present in knobs which adhere to endothelial cells causing the blockage of cerebral capillaries and ensuing pathological changes in cerebral tissues. P. brasilianum infection induces knobs, short and long clefts and electron-dense material. These structures appear to contain different P. brasilianum antigens. This indicates that each structure functions independently in trafficking P. brasilianum protein to the erythrocyte surface. P. vivax infection induces caveola-vesicle complexes and clefts in the erythrocyte. These structures are also involved in trafficking P. vivax protein from the parasite to the erythrocyte membrane. P. malariae induces caveolae, electron-dense material, vesicles, clefts and knobs in the erythrocyte. Although vesicles and caveolae are seen in the erythrocyte cytoplasm, they do not form caveola-vesicle complexes as seen in P. vivax-infected erythrocytes. They also appear to be involved in trafficking of malaria antigens. These studies, therefore, indicate that host cell changes occur in order to facilitate the transport of malarial antigens to the host cell membrane. The significance of these phenomena is still not clear.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't
  • Research Support, U.S. Gov't, Non-P.H.S.
  • Research Support, U.S. Gov't, P.H.S.

MeSH terms

  • Animals
  • Erythrocytes / parasitology
  • Erythrocytes / ultrastructure*
  • Host-Parasite Interactions
  • Humans
  • Microscopy, Electron
  • Plasmodium / physiology*