We studied the effects of membrane modulation on the interaction of Plasmodium falciparum rhoptry proteins of 140/130/110 kDa (Rhop-H) with human and mouse erythrocytes. Cells treated with 2-(2-methoxyethoxy)ethyl-8-(cis-2-n-octylcyclopropyl)octanoate, myristoleyl alcohol, and proteins extracted with sublytic concentrations of membrane solubilizing detergents were used in erythrocyte binding assays. Protein binding was evaluated by immunoblotting using Rhop-H- and SERA-specific antisera, 1B9, K15, and 5E3, respectively. Protein binding to liposomes prepared with dipalmitoyl-L-alpha-phosphatidylcholine (DPPC) or dilauroyl-L-alpha-phosphatidylcholine (DLPC) was also examined. Our results show that erythrocyte membrane modulation markedly enhanced direct Rhop-H binding to intact human erythrocytes. Binding of SERA to intact human erythrocytes appeared unaffected. Both DPPC and DLPC liposomes had similar Rhop-H and SERA protein binding activities. However, binding to DLPC liposomes was reduced. Rhop-H and SERA extracted with the detergents octanoyl-N-methylglucamide, decanoyl-N-methylglucamide, sodium deoxycholate, and 3-[(3-cholamidopropyl)dimethylammonio]-1-propane sulfonate bound directly to intact human erythrocytes, probably by partitioning hydrophobically into the membranes. Sodium carbonate treatment demonstrated a nonintegral association of Rhop-H with the erythrocyte membrane during invasion. Membrane modulation may expose cryptic phospholipid binding sites in the bilayer.