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J Cell Sci. 2005 Jun 1;118(Pt 11):2507-18.

PfEMP1 expression is reduced on the surface of knobless Plasmodium falciparum infected erythrocytes.

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  • 1Weatherall Institute of Molecular Medicine, University of Oxford, Oxford, OX3 9DS, UK. horrocks@hammer.imm.ox.ac.uk


The Plasmodium falciparum erythrocyte membrane protein 1 (PfEMP1) is a key virulence factor for this species of human malarial parasite. PfEMP1 is expressed on the surface of infected erythrocytes (IEs) and directly mediates adhesion to a variety of host cells. A number of other parasite-encoded proteins are similarly exported to the IE plasma membrane and play an indirect role in this adhesion process through the modification of the erythrocyte cytoskeleton and the formation of electron dense knobs into which PfEMP1 is anchored. Analysis of the specific contribution of knob-associated proteins to adhesion is difficult due to rapid PfEMP1 switching during in vitro culture. Furthermore, these studies typically assume that the level and distribution of PfEMP1 exposed in knobby (K(+)) and knobless (K(-)) IEs is unaltered, an assumption not yet supported with data. We describe here the preparation and characterisation of a panel of isogenic K(+) and K(-) parasite clones that express one of two defined PfEMP1 variants. Analysis of the cytoadhesive properties of these clones shows that both static and flow adhesion is reduced in all the K(-) clones and, further, that this correlates with an approximately 50% reduction in PfEMP1 displayed on the IE surface. However, despite this reduction, the gross distribution of PfEMP1 in K(-) IEs appears unaltered. These data impact on our current interpretation of the role of knobs in adhesion and the mechanism of trafficking PfEMP1 to the IE surface.

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