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X-Ray Microanalysis Investigation of the Changes in Na, K, and Hemoglobin Concentration in Plasmodium falciparum-Infected Red Blood Cells

Mauritz JMA, Seear R, Esposito A, Kaminski CF, Skepper J, Warley A, Lew VL, Tiffert T, "X-ray Microanalysis Investigation of the Stage-Related Changes in Na, K and Hemoglobin Concentration in Plasmodium Falciparum-Infected Red Blood Cells", Biophys. J., 100 (6), pp 1438-1445, (2011), DOI:10.1016/j.bpj.2011.02.007, | pdf


Plasmodium falciparum is responsible for severe malaria. During the ∼48 h duration of its asexual reproduction cycle in human red blood cells, the parasite causes profound alterations in the homeostasis of the host red cell, with reversal of the normal Na and K gradients across the host cell membrane, and a drastic fall in hemoglobin content. A question critical to our understanding of how the host cell retains its integrity for the duration of the cycle had been previously addressed by modeling the homeostasis of infected cells. The model predicted a critical contribution of excess hemoglobin consumption to cell integrity (the colloidosmotic hypothesis). Here we tested this prediction with the use of electron-probe x-ray microanalysis to measure the stage-related changes in Na, K, and Fe contents in single infected red cells and in uninfected controls. The results document a decrease in Fe signal with increased Na/K ratio. Interpreted in terms of concentrations, the results point to a sustained fall in host cell hemoglobin concentration with parasite maturation, supporting a colloidosmotic role of excess hemoglobin digestion. The results also provide, for the first time to our knowledge, comprehensive maps of the elemental distributions of Na, K, and Fe in falciparum-infected red blood cells.