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J Exp Med. 1999 Nov 15;190(10):1393-404.

Small, clonally variant antigens expressed on the surface of the Plasmodium falciparum-infected erythrocyte are encoded by the rif gene family and are the target of human immune responses.

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  • 1Microbiology and Tumor Biology Center, Karolinska Institutet, and the Swedish Institute for Infectious Disease Control, S-17177 Stockholm, Sweden.


Disease severity in Plasmodium falciparum infections is a direct consequence of the parasite's efficient evasion of the defense mechanisms of the human host. To date, one parasite-derived molecule, the antigenically variant adhesin P. falciparum erythrocyte membrane protein 1 (PfEMP1), is known to be transported to the infected erythrocyte (pRBC) surface, where it mediates binding to different host receptors. Here we report that multiple additional proteins are expressed by the parasite at the pRBC surface, including a large cluster of clonally variant antigens of 30-45 kD. We have found these antigens to be identical to the rifins, predicted polypeptides encoded by the rif multigene family. These parasite products, formerly called rosettins after their identification in rosetting parasites, are prominently expressed by fresh isolates of P. falciparum. Rifins are immunogenic in natural infections and strain-specifically recognized by human immune sera in immunoprecipitation of surface-labeled pRBC extracts. Furthermore, human immune sera agglutinate pRBCs digested with trypsin at conditions such that radioiodinated PfEMP1 polypeptides are not detected but rifins are detected, suggesting the presence of epitopes in rifins targeted by agglutinating antibodies. When analyzed by two-dimensional electrophoresis, the rifins resolved into several isoforms in the pI range of 5.5-6.5, indicating molecular microheterogeneity, an additional potential novel source of antigenic diversity in P. falciparum. Prominent polypeptides of 20, 22, 76-80, 140, and 170 kD were also detected on the surfaces of pRBCs bearing in vitro-propagated or field-isolated parasites. In this report, we describe the rifins, the second family of clonally variant antigens known to be displayed by P. falciparum on the surface of the infected erythrocyte.

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