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J Struct Biol. 2000 May;130(1):34-44.

Plasmodium falciparum-infected erythrocytes: qualitative and quantitative analyses of parasite-induced knobs by atomic force microscopy.

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Laboratory of Parasitic Diseases, National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases, Bethesda, Maryland 20892-0425, USA.


We used the combination of an atomic force microscope and a light microscope equipped with epifluorescence to serially image Plasmodium falciparum-infected erythrocytes. This procedure allowed us to determine unambiguously the presence and developmental stage of the malaria parasite as well as the number and size of knobs in singly, doubly, and triply infected erythrocytes. Knobs are not present during the ring stage of a malaria infection but a lesion resulting from invasion by a merozoite is clearly visible on the erythrocyte surface. This lesion is visible into the late trophozoite stage of infection. Knobs begin to form during the early trophozoite stage of infection and have a single-unit structure. Our data suggest the possibility that a two-unit structure of knobs, which was reported by Aikawa et al. (1996, Exp. Parasitol. 84, 339-343) using atomic force microscopy, appears to be a double-tipped image. The number of knobs per unit of host cell surface area is directly proportional to parasite number in both early and late trophozoite stages. These results indicate that knob formation by one parasite does not influence knob formation by other parasites in a multiply infected erythrocyte. In addition, knob volume is not influenced by either parasite stage or number at the late trophozoite stage, indicating that the number of component molecules per knob is constant throughout the parasite maturation process.

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