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Parasite. 2000 Mar;7(1):19-26.

Ultrastructure and function of mitochondria in gametocytic stage of Plasmodium falciparum.

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Department of Biochemistry, Faculty of Medicine, Chulalongkorn University, Bangkok, Thailand.


Morphological properties of the mitochondrial organelles in the asexual and sexual gametocytic stages of Plasmodium falciparum have been analyzed and found to be markedly different. From in vitro cultures of both stages in human erythrocytes, it has been demonstrated that the asexual stages contained a defined double-membrane organelle having a few tubular-like cristae. The numbers of mitochondria in the gametocytes were found to be approximately 6 organelles per parasite, and they showed a greater density of the cristae than that of the asexual stage parasite. The organelles of the gametocytes were successfully purified by differential centrifugation following Percoll density gradient separation with the results of approximately 7% yields and approximately 5 folds. The gametocytic organelles contained much more activities of mitochondrial electron transporting enzymes (i.e., cytochrome c reductase, cytochrome c oxidase) than the asexual stage organelles. Mitochondrial function as measured by oxygen consumption were found to be different between these two stages organelles. Their rates of oxygen consumption were relatively low, as compared to those of human leukocyte and mouse liver mitochondria. In contrast to the coupled mammalian mitochondria, the gametocytic organelles were in the uncoupling state between oxidation and phosphorylation reactions during their respiration. However, they were sensitive to inhibitors of the electron transport system, e.g., antimycin A, cyanide. Our results suggest that the mitochondria of the gametocytic stages are metabolically active and still underdeveloped, although their inner membranes are extensively folded. The biochemical significance of the unique structure of the mitochondria in these developing stages in host erythrocytes remains to be elucidated.

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