The surface of erythrocytes infected with late developmental stages of Plasmodium falciparum is profoundly altered and new antigenic determinants can be detected by surface immunofluorescence using immune squirrel monkey serum. The expression of these parasite-specific antigenic determinants on the surface of the host erythrocyte can be modulated by the presence or absence of the spleen and by immune pressure. An antigenic switch occurred when a cloned population of the Ugandan Palo Alto strain of P. falciparum was transferred from a splenectomized into an intact monkey and this switch was reversible. In another strain (Indochina-1), we showed that the parasites isolated during secondary and recrudescent peaks expressed erythrocyte-associated surface antigens different from the parasites isolated during the primary infection; six variant antigenic types distinct from the original population were isolated in this way. The passive transfer of immune serum can induce antigenic variation and this can occur in a cloned parasite. The various mechanisms of antigenic variation in P. falciparum are discussed in the context of strain-specific diversity and the role of antigenic diversity in acquired immunity.

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