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Sequential processing of merozoite surface proteins during and after erythrocyte invasion by Plasmodium falciparum.

Boyle MJ, Langer C, Chan JA, Hodder AN, Coppel RL, Anders RF, Beeson JG

  • Journal Infection and immunity

  • Published 11 Nov 2013

  • Volume 82

  • ISSUE 3

  • Pagination 924-36

  • DOI 10.1128/IAI.00866-13


Plasmodium falciparum causes malaria disease during the asexual blood stages of infection when merozoites invade erythrocytes and replicate. Merozoite surface proteins (MSPs) are proposed to play a role in the initial binding of merozoites to erythrocytes, but precise roles remain undefined. Based on electron microscopy studies of invading Plasmodium merozoites, it is proposed that the majority of MSPs are cleaved and shed from the surface during invasion, perhaps to release receptor-ligand interactions. In this study, we demonstrate that there is not universal cleavage of MSPs during invasion. Instead, there is sequential and coordinated cleavage and shedding of proteins, indicating a diversity of roles for surface proteins during and after invasion. While MSP1 and peripheral surface proteins such as MSP3, MSP7, serine repeat antigen 4 (SERA4), and SERA5 are cleaved and shed at the tight junction between the invading merozoite and erythrocyte, the glycosylphosphatidylinositol (GPI)-anchored proteins MSP2 and MSP4 are carried into the erythrocyte without detectable processing. Following invasion, MSP2 rapidly degrades within 10 min, whereas MSP4 is maintained for hours. This suggests that while some proteins that are shed upon invasion may have roles in initial contact steps, others function during invasion and are then rapidly degraded, whereas others are internalized for roles during intraerythrocytic development. Interestingly, anti-MSP2 antibodies did not inhibit invasion and instead were carried into erythrocytes and maintained for approximately 20 h without inhibiting parasite development. These findings provide new insights into the mechanisms of invasion and knowledge to advance the development of new drugs and vaccines against malaria.