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Parasitol Today. 2000 Jan;16(1):28-30.

Malaria multigene families: the price of chronicity.

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Department of Infection and Tropical Medicine, Imperial College School of Medicine, Northwick Park Hospital, Harrow, Middlesex, UK.


In this article, Georges Snounou, William Jarra and Peter Preiser discuss the survival strategy of malaria parasites in the light of a novel mechanism of clonal phenotypic variation recently described for a multigene family of Plasmodium yoelii yoelii. The 235 kDa rhoptry proteins (Py235) encoded by these genes may be involved in the selection of red blood cells for invasion by merozoites. The new mechanism may explain the ability of individual parasites to adapt to natural variations in red blood cell subsets, while ensuring that sufficient merozoites escape immune attack, thus maintaining a chronic infection for extended periods. This counterpoints the antigenic variation exemplified by PfEMP1 proteins (a large family of proteins derived from P. falciparum), which operates at the population level. The possibility of manipulating the expression of functionally similar genes in other Plasmodium species could lead to therapies aimed at reducing clinical severity without compromising the acquisition and maintenance of immunity.

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