Plasmodium vivax and P. knowlesi use the Duffy antigen as a receptor to invade human erythrocytes. Duffy-binding ligands belong to a family of erythrocyte-binding proteins that bind erythrocyte receptors to mediate invasion. Receptor-binding domains in erythrocyte-binding proteins lie in conserved cysteine-rich regions called Duffy-binding-like domains. In the present study, we report an analysis of the overall three-dimensional architecture of P. vivax and P. knowlesi Duffy-binding domains based on mild proteolysis and supportive-functional assays. Our proteolysis experiments indicate that these domains are built of two distinct subdomains. The N-terminal region from Cys-1–4 (C1–C4) forms a stable non-functional subdomain. The region spanning C5–C12 forms another subdomain, which is capable of binding Duffy antigen. These subdomains are joined by a protease-sensitive linker. Results from deletion constructs, designed for expression of truncated proteins on COS cell surface, show that regions containing C5–C8 of the Duffy-binding domains are sufficient for the binding receptor. Therefore the central region of Duffy-binding domains, which is flanked by two non-functional regions, is responsible for receptor recognition. Moreover, the minimal Duffy-binding region identified here is capable of folding into a functionally competent module. These studies pave the way for understanding the architecture of Duffy-binding domains and their interactions with host receptors.

Abbreviations used: C1–C4, Cys-1–4; DBL, Duffy-binding-like; DMEM, Dulbecco's modified Eagle's medium; EBA, erythrocyte-binding assay; EBP, erythrocyte-binding protein; HSVgD, herpes simplex virus glycoprotein D; PfEMP-1, Plasmodium falciparum erythrocyte membrane protein-1.

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