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Int J Parasitol. 2006 Jan;36(1):23-36. Epub 2005 Nov 2.

Maurer's clefts: a novel multi-functional organelle in the cytoplasm of Plasmodium falciparum-infected erythrocytes.

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Abteilung Parasitologie, Hygiene-Institut, Universitätsklinikum Heidelberg, Im Neuenheimer Feld 324, D-69120 Heidelberg, Germany.


Discovered in 1902 by Georg Maurer as a peculiar dotted staining pattern observable by light microscopy in the cytoplasm of erythrocytes infected with the human malarial parasite Plasmodium falciparum, the function of Maurer's clefts have remained obscure for more than a century. The growing interest in protein sorting and trafficking processes in malarial parasites has recently aroused the Maurer's clefts from their deep slumber. Mounting evidence suggests that Maurer's clefts are a secretory organelle, which the parasite establishes within its host erythrocyte, but outside its own confines, to route parasite proteins across the host cell cytoplasm to the erythrocyte surface where they play a role in nutrient uptake and immune evasion processes. Moreover, Maurer's clefts seem to play a role in cell signaling, merozoite egress, phospholipid biosynthesis and, possibly, other biochemical pathways. Here, we review our current knowledge of the ultrastructure of Maurer's clefts, their proteinaceous composition and their function in protein trafficking.

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