Evidence for trafficking of PfEMP1 to the surface of P. falciparum-infected erythrocytes via a complex membrane network
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The human malarial parasite Plasmodium falciparum exports virulence determinants, such as the P. falciparum erythrocyte membrane protein 1 (PfEMP1), beyond its own periplasmatic boundaries to the surface of its host erythrocyte. This is remarkable given that erythrocytes lack a secretory pathway. Here we present evidence for a continuous membrane network of parasite origin in the erythrocyte cytoplasm. Co-localizations with antibodies against PfEMP1, PfExp-1, Pf332 and PfSbp1 at the light and electron microscopical level indicate that this membrane network is composed of structures that have been previously described as tubovesicular membrane network (TVM), Maurer's clefts and membrane whorls. This membrane network could also be visualized in vivo by vital staining of infected erythrocytes with the fluorescent dye LysoSensor Green DND-153. At sites where the membrane network abuts the erythrocyte plasma membrane we observed small vesicles of 15 - 25 nm in size, which seem to bud from and/or fuse with the membrane network and the erythrocyte plasma membrane, respectively. On the basis of our data we hypothesize that this membrane network of parasite origin represents a novel secretory organelle that is involved in the trafficking of PfEMP1 across the erythrocyte cytoplasm.
European Journal of Cell Biology