This work describes two unusual features of membrane development in a eukaryotic cell. (a) The induction of an extensive network of tubovesicular membranes by the malaria parasite Plasmodium falciparum in the cytoplasm of the mature erythrocyte, and its visualization with two ceramide analogues C5-DMB-ceramide and C6-NBD-ceramide. "Sectioning" of the infected erythrocytes using laser confocal microscopy has allowed the reconstruction of detailed three-dimensional images of this novel membrane network. (b) The stage-specific export of sphingomyelin synthase, a biosynthetic activity concentrated in the Golgi of mammalian cells, to this tubovesicular network. Evidence is presented that in the extracellular merozoite stage the parasite retains sphingomyelin synthase within its plasma membrane. However, intracellular ring- and trophozoite-stage parasites export a substantial fraction (approximately 26%) of sphingomyelin synthase activity to membranes beyond their plasma membrane. Importantly we do not observe synthesis of new enzyme during these intracellular stages. Taken together these results strongly suggest that the export of this classic Golgi enzyme is developmentally regulated in Plasmodium. We discuss the significance of this export and the tubovesicular network with respect to membrane development and function in the erythrocyte cytosol.

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