A voltage-dependent channel involved in nutrient uptake by red blood cells infected with the malaria parasite. Academic Article uri icon


  • Growth of the malaria parasite in human red blood cells (RBCs) is accompanied by an increased uptake of many solutes including anions, sugars, purines, amino acids and organic cations. Although the pharmacological properties and selectivity of this uptake suggest that a chloride channel is involved, the precise mechanism has not been identified. Moreover, the location of this uptake in the infected RBC is unknown because tracer studies are complicated by possible uptake through fluid-phase pinocytosis or membranous ducts. Here we have studied the permeability of infected RBCs using the whole-cell voltage-clamp method. With this method, uninfected RBCs had ohmic whole-cell conductances of less than 100 pS, consistent with their low tracer permeabilities. In contrast, trophozoite-infected RBCs exhibited voltage-dependent, non-saturating currents that were 150-fold larger, predominantly carried by anions and abruptly abolished by channel blockers. Patch-clamp measurements and spectral analysis confirmed that a small (< 10 pS) ion channel on the infected RBC surface, present at about 1,000 copies per cell, is responsible for these currents. Because its pharmacological properties and substrate selectivities match those seen with tracer studies, this channel accounts for the increased uptake of small solutes in infected RBCs. The surface location of this new channel and its permeability to organic solutes needed for parasite growth indicate that it may have a primary role in a sequential diffusive pathway for parasite nutrient acquisition.

publication date

  • August 31, 2000