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Plasmodium vivax merozoites only invade reticulocytes, a minor though heterogeneous population of red blood cell precursors that can be graded by levels of transferrin receptor (CD71) expression. The development of a protocol that allows sorting reticulocytes into defined developmental stages and a robust ex vivo P vivax invasion assay has made it possible for the first time to investigate the fine-scale invasion preference of P vivax merozoites. Surprisingly, it was the immature reticulocytes (CD71(+)) that are generally restricted to the bone marrow that were preferentially invaded, whereas older reticulocytes (CD71(-)), principally found in the peripheral blood, were rarely invaded. Invasion assays based on the CD71(+) reticulocyte fraction revealed substantial postinvasion modification. Thus, 3 to 6 hours after invasion, the initially biomechanically rigid CD71(+) reticulocytes convert into a highly deformable CD71(-) infected red blood cell devoid of host reticular matter, a process that normally spans 24 hours for uninfected reticulocytes. Concurrent with these changes, clathrin pits disappear by 3 hours postinvasion, replaced by distinctive caveolae nanostructures. These 2 hitherto unsuspected features of P vivax invasion, a narrow preference for immature reticulocytes and a rapid remodeling of the host cell, provide important insights pertinent to the pathobiology of the P vivax infection.

Original publication




Journal article



Publication Date





1314 - 1324


Antigens, CD, Biomechanical Phenomena, Cells, Cultured, Erythrocyte Deformability, Humans, Malaria, Vivax, Plasmodium vivax, Receptors, Transferrin, Reticulocytes, Tropism