When merozoites of the malaria parasite Plasmodium falciparum are released from infected erythrocytes and invade new red cells, a component of a protein complex derived from the merozoite surface protein 1 (MSP-1) precursor undergoes a single proteolytic cleavage known as secondary processing. This releases the complex from the parasite surface, except for a small membrane-bound fragment consisting of two epidermal growth factor (EGF)-like domains, which is the only part of MSP-1 to be carried into invaded erythrocytes. We report that, a group of monoclonal antibodies specific for epitopes within the EGF-like domains, some interfere with secondary processing whereas others do not. Those that most effectively inhibit processing have previously been shown to prevent invasion. Other antibodies, some of which can block this inhibition, not only do not prevent invasion but are carried into the host cell bound to the merozoite surface. These observations unequivocally demonstrate that the binding of antibody to the COOH-terminal region of MSP-1 on the merozoite surface may not be sufficient to prevent erythrocyte invasion, and show that the interaction of different antibodies with adjacent epitopes within the EGF-like domains of MSP-1 can have distinct biochemical effects on the molecule. Inhibition of MSP-1 processing on merozoites may be a mechanism by which protective antibodies interrupt the asexual cycle of the malaria parasite.

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