Electron tomography of the Maurer's cleft organelles of Plasmodium falciparum-infected erythrocytes reveals novel structural features

Eric Hanssen, Rachid Sougrat, Sarah Frankland, Samantha Deed, Nectarios Klonis, Jennifer Lippincott-Schwartz, Leann Tilley*

*Corresponding author for this work

    Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

    78 Scopus citations


    During intraerythrocytic development, the human malaria parasite, Plasmodium falciparum, establishes membrane-bound compartments, known as Maurer's clefts, outside the confines of its own plasma membrane. The Maurer's compartments are thought to be a crucial component of the machinery for protein sorting and trafficking; however, their ultrastructure is only partly defined. We have used electron tomography to image Maurer's clefts of 3D7 strain parasites. The compartments are revealed as flattened structures with a translucent lumen and a more electron-dense coat. They display a complex and convoluted morphology, and some regions are modified with surface nodules, each with a circular cross-section of ∼25 nm. Individual 25 nm vesicle-like structures are also seen in the erythrocyte cytoplasm and associated with the red blood cell membrane. The Maurer's clefts are connected to the red blood cell membrane by regions with extended stalk-like profiles. Immunogold labelling with specific antibodies confirms differential labelling of the Maurer's clefts and the parasitophorous vacuole and erythrocyte membranes. Spot fluorescence photobleaching was used to demonstrate the absence of a lipid continuum between the Maurer's clefts and parasite membranes and the host plasma membrane.

    Original languageEnglish (US)
    Pages (from-to)703-718
    Number of pages16
    JournalMolecular Microbiology
    Issue number4
    StatePublished - Feb 2008

    ASJC Scopus subject areas

    • Microbiology
    • Molecular Biology

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