skip to primary navigationskip to content

The Homeostasis of Plasmodium falciparum-Infected Red Blood Cells

Mauritz J, Esposito A, Ginsburg H, Kaminski CF, Tiffert T and Lew VL, "The Homeostasis ofPlasmodium falciparum Infected Red Blood Cells", PLoS Comput Biol 5(4): e1000339, (2009), DOI:10.1371/journal.pcbi.1000339 | pdf


The asexual reproduction cycle of Plasmodium falciparum, the parasite responsible for severe malaria, occurs within red blood cells. A merozoite invades a red cell in the circulation, develops and multiplies, and after about 48 hours ruptures the host cell, releasing 15–32 merozoites ready to invade new red blood cells. During this cycle, the parasite increases the host cell permeability so much that when similar permeabilization was simulated on uninfected red cells, lysis occurred before ~48 h. So how could infected cells, with a growing parasite inside, prevent lysis before the parasite has completed its developmental cycle? A mathematical model of the homeostasis of infected red cells suggested that it is the wasteful consumption of host cell hemoglobin that prevents early lysis by the progressive reduction in the colloid-osmotic pressure within the host (the colloid-osmotic hypothesis). However, two critical model predictions, that infected cells would swell to near prelytic sphericity and that the hemoglobin concentration would become progressively reduced, remained controversial. In this paper, we are able for the first time to correlate model predictions with recent experimental data in the literature and explore the fine details of the homeostasis of infected red blood cells during five model-defined periods of parasite development. The conclusions suggest that infected red cells do reach proximity to lytic rupture regardless of their actual volume, thus requiring a progressive reduction in their hemoglobin concentration to prevent premature lysis.