Lipids and the malarial parasite

Bull World Health Organ. 1977;55(2-3):237-48.


Merozoite endocytosis initiates Plasmodium development in a vacuole bounded by an erythrocyte-derived membrane, whose asymmetrical distribution of lipids and proteins is reversed in its orientation with respect to the parasite plasma membrane. Reorientation may accompany the proliferation of the membrane associated with the parasite's growth and phagocytic and pinocytic feeding. Increases in the membrane surface area of the parasite, and in some cases of the erythrocyte, parallel parasite growth and segmentation. Augmentation of all the membrane systems of the infected erythrocyte causes the lipid content to rise rapidly, but the parasite lipid composition differs from that of the erythrocyte in many respects: it is higher in diacyl phosphatidylethanolamine, phosphatidylinositol, polyglycerol phosphatides, diacylglycerols, unesterified fatty acids, triacylglycerols, and hexadecanoic and octadecenoic fatty acids and lower in sphingomyelin, phosphatidylserine, alkoxy phosphatidylethanolamine, cholesterol, and polyunsaturated fatty acids. Active lipid metabolism accompanies the membrane proliferation associated with feeding, growth, and reproduction. Plasmodium is incapable of de novo biosynthesis of fatty acids and cholesterol; however, it can fabricate its glycerides and phosphoglycerides with host-supplied fatty acids, nitrogenous bases, alcohols, ATP, and coenzyme A, and can generate the glyceryl moiety during glycolysis. Cholesterol is obtained from the host but nothing is known of sphingolipid origins. Lipid metabolism of the parasite may be associated with alterations in the amounts of octadecenoic fatty acids and cholesterol in the erythrocyte plasma membrane, which in turn are responsible for changes in permeability and fragility.

Publication types

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

MeSH terms

  • Animals
  • Birds
  • Cell Membrane
  • Cholesterol / blood
  • Erythrocytes / analysis
  • Erythrocytes / metabolism
  • Erythrocytes / parasitology
  • Fatty Acids / blood
  • Haplorhini
  • Lipid Metabolism*
  • Lipids / blood
  • Plasmodium / analysis
  • Plasmodium / metabolism*
  • Rats


  • Fatty Acids
  • Lipids
  • Cholesterol