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J Cell Biol. 1978 Apr;77(1):72-82.

Erythrocyte entry by malarial parasites. A moving junction between erythrocyte and parasite.


Invasion of erythrocytes by merozoites of the monkey malaria, Plasmodium knowlesi, was investigated by electron microscopy. The apical end of the merozoite makes initial contact with the erythrocyte, creating a small depression in the erythrocyte membrane. The area of the erythrocyte membrane to which the merozoite is attached becomes thickened and forms a junction with the plasma membrane of the merozoite. As the merozoite enters the invagination in the erythrocyte surface, the junction, which is in the form of a circumferential zone of attachment between the erythrocyte and merozoite, moves along the confronted membranes to maintain its position at the orifice of the invagination. When entry is completed, the orifice closes behind the parasite in the fashion of an iris diaphragm, and the junction becomes a part of the parasitophorous vacuole. The movement of the junction during invasion is an important component of the mechanism by which the merozoite enters the erythrocyte. The extracellular merozoite is covered with a prominent surface coat. During invasion, this coat appears to be absent from the portion of the merozoite within the erythrocyte invagination, but the density of the surface coat outside the invagination (beyond the junction) is unaltered.

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