We have identified and characterized three stage-specific proteinases of Plasmodium falciparum that are active at neutral pH. We analyzed ring-, trophozoite-, schizont-, and merozoite-stage parasites by gelatin substrate PAGE and characterized the identified proteinases with class-specific proteinase inhibitors. No proteinase activity was detected with rings. Trophozoites had a 28 kD proteinase that was inhibited by inhibitors of cysteine proteinases. Mature schizonts had a 35-40 kD proteinase that also was inhibited by cysteine proteinase inhibitors. Merozoite fractions had a 75 kD proteinase that was inhibited by serine proteinase inhibitors. The stage-specific activity of these proteinases and the correlation between the effects of proteinase inhibitors on the isolated enzymes with the effects of the inhibitors on whole parasites suggest potential critical functions for these proteinases in the life cycle of malaria parasites.

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