Time-lapse imaging of red blood cell invasion by the rodent malaria parasite Plasmodium yoelii


In order to propagate within the mammalian host, malaria parasites must invade red blood cells (RBCs). This process offers a window of opportunity in which to target the parasite with drugs or vaccines. However, most of the studies relating to RBC invasion have analyzed the molecular interactions of parasite proteins with host cells under static conditions, and the dynamics of these interactions remain largely unstudied. Time-lapse imaging of RBC invasion is a powerful technique to investigate cell invasion and has been reported for Plasmodium knowlesi and Plasmodium falciparum. However, experimental modification of genetic loci is laborious and time consuming for these species. We have established a system of time-lapse imaging for the rodent malaria parasite Plasmodium yoelii, for which modification of genetic loci is quicker and simpler. We compared the kinetics of RBC invasion by P. yoelii with that of P. falciparum and found that the overall kinetics during invasion were similar, with some exceptions. The most striking of these differences is that, following egress from the RBC, the shape of P. yoelii merozoites gradually changes from flat elongated ovals to spherical bodies, a process taking about 60 sec. During this period merozoites were able to attach to and deform the RBC membrane, but were not able to reorient and invade. We propose that this morphological change of P. yoelii merozoites may be related to the secretion or activation of invasion-related proteins. Thus the P. yoelii merozoite appears to be an excellent model to analyze the molecular dynamics of RBC invasion, particularly during the morphological transition phase, which could serve as an expanded window that cannot be observed in P. falciparum.

Journal details

Journal PLOS ONE
Volume 7
Issue number 12
Pages e50780
Publication date


Type of publication