FRET Imaging of Hemoglobin Concentration in Plasmodium falciparum-Infected Red CellsReport as inadecuate

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During its intraerythrocytic asexual reproduction cycle Plasmodium falciparum consumes up to 80% of the host cell hemoglobin, in large excess over its metabolic needs. A model of the homeostasis of falciparum-infected red blood cells suggested an explanation based on the need to reduce the colloid-osmotic pressure within the host cell to prevent its premature lysis. Critical for this hypothesis was that the hemoglobin concentration within the host cell be progressively reduced from the trophozoite stage onwards.

Methodology-Principal Findings

The experiments reported here were designed to test this hypothesis by direct measurements of the hemoglobin concentration in live, infected red cells. We developed a novel, non-invasive method to quantify the hemoglobin concentration in single cells, based on Förster resonance energy transfer between hemoglobin molecules and the fluorophore calcein. Fluorescence lifetime imaging allowed the quantitative mapping of the hemoglobin concentration within the cells. The average fluorescence lifetimes of uninfected cohorts was 270±30 ps mean±SD; N = 45. In the cytoplasm of infected cells the fluorescence lifetime of calcein ranged from 290±20 ps for cells with ring stage parasites to 590±13 ps and 1050±60 ps for cells with young trophozoites and late stage trophozoite- early schizonts, respectively. This was equivalent to reductions in hemoglobin concentration spanning the range from 7.3 to 2.3 mM, in line with the model predictions. An unexpected ancillary finding was the existence of a microdomain under the host cell membrane with reduced calcein quenching by hemoglobin in cells with mature trophozoite stage parasites.


The results support the predictions of the colloid-osmotic hypothesis and provide a better understanding of the homeostasis of malaria-infected red cells. In addition, they revealed the existence of a distinct peripheral microdomain in the host cell with limited access to hemoglobin molecules indicating the concentration of substantial amounts of parasite-exported material.

Author: Alessandro Esposito , Teresa Tiffert, Jakob M. A. Mauritz, Simon Schlachter, Lawrence H. Bannister, Clemens F. Kaminski, Virgilio



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