Comparative intravital imaging of human and rodent malaria sporozoites reveals the skin is not a species-specific barrier

EMBO Mol Med. 2021 Apr 9;13(4):e11796. doi: 10.15252/emmm.201911796. Epub 2021 Mar 22.


Malaria infection starts with the injection of Plasmodium sporozoites into the host's skin. Sporozoites are motile and move in the skin to find and enter blood vessels to be carried to the liver. Here, we present the first characterization of P. falciparum sporozoites in vivo, analyzing their motility in mouse skin and human skin xenografts and comparing their motility to two rodent malaria species. These data suggest that in contrast to the liver and blood stages, the skin is not a species-specific barrier for Plasmodium. Indeed, P. falciparum sporozoites enter blood vessels in mouse skin at similar rates to the rodent malaria parasites. Furthermore, we demonstrate that antibodies targeting sporozoites significantly impact the motility of P. falciparum sporozoites in mouse skin. Though the sporozoite stage is a validated vaccine target, vaccine trials have been hampered by the lack of good animal models for human malaria parasites. Pre-clinical screening of next-generation vaccines would be significantly aided by the in vivo platform we describe here, expediting down-selection of candidates prior to human vaccine trials.

Keywords: Plasmodium; intravital; malaria; skin; sporozoites.

Publication types

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

MeSH terms

  • Animals
  • Humans
  • Intravital Microscopy
  • Malaria Vaccines*
  • Malaria*
  • Malaria, Falciparum*
  • Mice
  • Plasmodium falciparum
  • Rodentia
  • Sporozoites


  • Malaria Vaccines