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Proc Natl Acad Sci U S A. 2010 Oct 26;107(43):18640-5. doi: 10.1073/pnas.1009346107. Epub 2010 Oct 4.

Development of the malaria parasite in the skin of the mammalian host.

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  • 1Unité de Biologie et Génétique du Paludisme, Institut Pasteur, 75724 Paris Cedex 15, France.


The first step of Plasmodium development in vertebrates is the transformation of the sporozoite, the parasite stage injected by the mosquito in the skin, into merozoites, the stage that invades erythrocytes and initiates the disease. The current view is that, in mammals, this stage conversion occurs only inside hepatocytes. Here, we document the transformation of sporozoites of rodent-infecting Plasmodium into merozoites in the skin of mice. After mosquito bite, ∼50% of the parasites remain in the skin, and at 24 h ∼10% are developing in the epidermis and the dermis, as well as in the immunoprivileged hair follicles where they can survive for weeks. The parasite developmental pathway in skin cells, although frequently abortive, leads to the generation of merozoites that are infective to erythrocytes and are released via merosomes, as typically observed in the liver. Therefore, during malaria in rodents, the skin is not just the route to the liver but is also the final destination for many inoculated parasites, where they can differentiate into merozoites and possibly persist.

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