Amino acid metabolism and protein synthesis in malarial parasites

Bull World Health Organ. 1977;55(2-3):265-76.


Malaria-infected red cells and free parasites have limited capabilities for the biosynthesis of amino acids. Therefore, the principal amino acid sources for parasite protein synthesis are the plasma free amino acids and host cell haemoglobin. Infected cells and plasmodia incorporate exogenously supplied amino acids into protein. However, the hypothesis that amino acid utilization (from an external source) is related to availability of that amino acid in haemoglobin is without universal support: it is true for isoleucine and for Plasmodium knowlesi and P. falciparum, but not for methionine, cysteine, and other amino acids, and it does not apply to P. lophurae. More by default than by direct evidence, haemoglobin is believed to be the main amino acid reservoir available to the intraerythrocytic plasmodium. Haemoglobin, ingested via the cytostome, is held in food vacuoles where auto-oxidation takes place. As a consequence, haem is released and accumulates in the vacuole as particulate haemozoin (= malaria pigment). Current evidence favours the view that haemozoin is mainly haematin. Acid and alkaline proteases (identified in crude extracts from mammalian and avian malarias) are presumably secreted directly into the food vacuole. They then digest the denatured globin and the resulting amino acids are incorporated into parasite protein. Cell-free protein synthesizing systems have been developed using P. knowlesi and P. lophurae ribosomes. In the main these systems are typically eukaryotic.Studies of amino acid metabolism are exceedingly limited. Arginine, lysine, methionine, and proline are incorporated into protein, whereas glutamic acid is metabolized via an NADP-specific glutamic dehydrogenase. Glutamate oxidation generates NADPH and auxiliary energy (in the form of alpha-ketoglutarate). The role of red cell glutathione in the economy of the parasite remains obscure. Important goals for future research should be: quantitative assessment of the relative importance of amino acid sources for parasite protein synthesis; purification and characterization of plasmodial proteinases; and in vitro translation of parasite messenger RNA.

Publication types

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

MeSH terms

  • Amino Acids / metabolism*
  • Animals
  • Carbon Dioxide / metabolism
  • Cell-Free System
  • Erythrocytes / metabolism
  • Erythrocytes / parasitology
  • Hemeproteins / metabolism
  • Hemoglobins / metabolism
  • Peptide Hydrolases / metabolism
  • Pigments, Biological / metabolism
  • Plasmodium / metabolism*
  • Protein Biosynthesis*


  • Amino Acids
  • Hemeproteins
  • Hemoglobins
  • Pigments, Biological
  • Carbon Dioxide
  • Peptide Hydrolases