During the asexual stage of malaria infection, the intracellular parasite exports membranes into the erythrocyte cytoplasm and lipids and proteins to the host cell membrane, essentially "transforming" the erythrocyte. To investigate lipid and protein trafficking pathways within Plasmodium falciparum-infected erythrocytes, synchronous cultures are temporally analyzed by confocal fluorescence imaging microscopy for the production, location and morphology of exported membranes (vesicles) and parasite proteins. Highly mobile vesicles are observed as early as 4 h postinvasion in the erythrocyte cytoplasm of infected erythrocytes incubated in vitro with C6-NBD-labeled phospholipids. These vesicles are most prevalent in the trophozoite stage. An immunofluorescence technique is developed to simultaneously determine the morphology and distribution of the fluorescent membranes and a number of parasite proteins within a single parasitized erythrocyte. Parasite proteins are visualized with FITC- or Texas red-labeled monoclonal antibodies. Double-label immunofluorescence reveals that of the five parasite antigens examined, only one was predominantly associated with membranes in the erythrocyte cytoplasm. Two other parasite antigens localized only in part to these vesicles, with the majority of the exported antigens present in lipid-free aggregates in the host cell cytoplasm. Another parasite antigen transported into the erythrocyte cytoplasm is localized exclusively in lipid-free aggregates. A parasite plasma membrane (PPM) and/or parasitophorous vacuolar membrane (PVM) antigen which is not exported always colocalizes with fluorescent lipids in the PPM/PVM. Visualization of two parasite proteins simultaneously using FITC- and Texas red-labeled 2 degrees antibodies reveals that some parasite proteins are constitutively transported in the same vesicles, whereas other are segregated before export. Of the four exported antigens, only one appears to cross the barriers of the PPM and PVM through membrane-mediated events, whereas the others are exported across the PPM/PVM to the host cell cytoplasm and surface membrane through lipid (vesicle)-independent pathways.

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