Origins of the parasitophorous vacuole membrane of the malaria parasite: surface area of the parasitized red cell

Eur J Cell Biol. 1995 Dec;68(4):446-9.


There is conflicting evidence on whether the parasitophorous vacuole membrane, in which the malaria parasite becomes encapsulated when it enters the red cell, represents a part of the host cell membrane or is derived, at least in part, from the parasite. We have measured the surface area of populations of red cells before and after invasion by up to four merozoites of the malaria parasite, Plasmodium falciparum. The dimensions of the merozoite are such that, if it enveloped itself entirely in host cell membrane during entry, the loss of surface area would amount to some 4 square microns 2 or 3% of the total for each parasite internalized. Our measurements show that within the 99% level of confidence any loss of surface area is less than 1 square micron 2 per parasite internalized. Area measurements on red cells that have been allowed to lose known proportions of their membrane by metabolically induced vesiculation reveal, moreover, that diminutions in surface area in the range of interest are readily detectable. Our observations on recently invaded (young ring-stage) parasites appear to exclude any significant change in surface area of the host cell following invasion. This implies that, if indeed there is internalization of host cell membrane lipid on invasion, as the best evidence shows, it is compensated by parasite-derived lipid, and conversely the parasitophorous vacuole membrane probably contains a contribution of parasite-derived material, presumably that seen to be discharged by the apical organelles, the rhoptries, at the time of invasion.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Animals
  • Cell Size
  • Erythrocyte Membrane / chemistry
  • Erythrocyte Membrane / parasitology*
  • Erythrocyte Membrane / ultrastructure
  • Host-Parasite Interactions
  • Humans
  • Phospholipids / analysis
  • Plasmodium falciparum / chemistry*
  • Vacuoles / chemistry
  • Vacuoles / parasitology*


  • Phospholipids