The membrane phospholipid organization in monkey erythrocytes harbouring different developmental stages of the simian malarial parasite Plasmodium knowlesi was studied using phospholipase A2 from two different sources and Merocyanine 540 as the external-membrane probes. Experiments were done to confirm that the phospholipases did not penetrate into the infected cells or hydrolyse phospholipids during membrane isolation. The parasite-free erythrocyte membrane was isolated by differential centrifugation or by using the cationic beads Affi-Gel 731. The purity of the membranes was established by optical and electron microscopy, and by assaying the parasite-specific enzyme glutamate dehydrogenase. About 10% of the phosphatidylethanolamine and none of phosphatidylserine were hydrolysed by the phospholipases in intact normal monkey erythrocytes. However, accessibility of these aminophospholipids to the enzymes was significantly enhanced in the infected cells under identical conditions. The degree of this enhancement depended on the developmental stage of the intracellular parasite, but not on the parasitaemia levels in the infected monkeys, and increased with the parasite growth inside the cells. Analogously, Merocyanine 540 was found to label the trophozoite- or schizont-infected erythrocytes, but not the ring-infected or normal cells. These results demonstrate that the intracellular malarial parasite produces stage-dependent alterations in the membrane phospholipid organization of its host erythrocyte.

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