Origin, composition, organization and function of the inner membrane complex of Plasmodium falciparum gametocytes

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Journal Article
Journal of Cell Science, 2012, 125 (8), pp. 2053 - 2063
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The most virulent of the human malaria parasites, Plasmodium falciparum, undergoes a remarkable morphological transformation as it prepares itself for sexual reproduction and transmission via mosquitoes. Indeed P. falciparum is named for the unique falciform or crescent shape of the mature sexual stages. Once the metamorphosis is completed, the mature gametocyte releases from sequestration sites and enters the circulation, thus making it accessible to feeding mosquitoes. Early ultrastructural studies showed that gametocyte elongation is driven by the assembly of a system of flattened cisternal membrane compartments underneath the parasite plasma membrane and a supporting network of microtubules. Here we describe the molecular composition and origin of the sub-pellicular membrane complex, and show that it is analogous to the inner membrane complex, an organelle with structural and motor functions that is well conserved across the apicomplexa. We identify novel crosslinking elements that might help stabilize the inner membrane complex during gametocyte development. We show that changes in gametocyte morphology are associated with an increase in cellular deformability and postulate that this enables the gametocytes to circulate in the bloodstream without being detected and removed by the mechanical filtering mechanisms in the spleen of the host. © 2012.
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