Malarial parasites propagate asexually inside the erythrocytes of their vertebrate host. Six hours after invasion, the permeability of the host cell membrane to anions and small nonelectrolytes starts to increase and reaches its peak as the parasite matures. This increased permeability differs from the native transport systems of the normal erythrocyte in its solute selectivity pattern, its enthalpy of activation and its susceptibility to inhibitors, suggesting the appearance of new transport pathways. A biophysical analysis of the permeability data indicates that the selectivity barrier discriminates between permeants according to their hydrogen bonding capacity and has solubilization properties compared to those of iso-butanol. The new permeability pathways could result from structural defects caused in the host cell membrane by the insertion of parasite-derived polypeptides. It is suggested that the unique transport properties of the new pathways be used to target drugs into infected cells, to affect the parasite either directly or through the modulation of the intraerythrocytic environment. The feasibility of drug targeting is demonstrated in in vitro cultures of the human malarial parasite Plasmodium falciparum.

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