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α2-Macroglobulin can crosslink multiple plasmodium falciparum Erythrocyte Membrane Protein 1 (PfEMP1) molecules and may facilitate adhesion of parasitized erythrocytes

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Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)e1005022
JournalPlos pathogens
Issue number7
Publication statusPublished - 2 Jul 2015


Rosetting, the adhesion of Plasmodium falciparum-infected erythrocytes to uninfected erythrocytes, involves clonal variants of the parasite protein P. falciparum erythrocyte membrane protein 1 (PfEMP1) and soluble serum factors. While rosetting is a well-known phenotypic marker of parasites associated with severe malaria, the reason for this association remains unclear, as do the molecular details of the interaction between the infected erythrocyte (IE) and the adhering erythrocytes. Here, we identify for the first time a single serum factor, the abundant serum protease inhibitor α2-macroglobulin (α2M), which is both required and sufficient for rosetting mediated by the PfEMP1 protein HB3VAR06 and some other rosette-mediating PfEMP1 proteins. We map the α2M binding site to the C terminal end of HB3VAR06, and demonstrate that α2M can bind at least four HB3VAR06 proteins, plausibly augmenting their combined avidity for host receptors. IgM has previously been identified as a rosette-facilitating soluble factor that acts in a similar way, but it cannot induce rosetting on its own. This is in contrast to α2M and probably due to the more limited cross-linking potential of IgM. Nevertheless, we show that IgM works synergistically with α2M and markedly lowers the concentration of α2M required for rosetting. Finally, HB3VAR06+ IEs share the capacity to bind α2M with subsets of genotypically distinct P. falciparum isolates forming rosettes in vitro and of patient parasite isolates ex vivo. Together, our results are evidence that P. falciparum parasites exploit α2M (and IgM) to expand the repertoire of host receptors available for PfEMP1-mediated IE adhesion, such as the erythrocyte carbohydrate moieties that lead to formation of rosettes. It is likely that this mechanism also affects IE adhesion to receptors on vascular endothelium. The study opens opportunities for broad-ranging immunological interventions targeting the α2M--(and IgM-) binding domains of PfEMP1, which would be independent of the host receptor specificity of clinically important PfEMP1 antigens.

    Research areas

  • animals, erythrocytes, humans, malaria, Plasmodium falciparum, Protozoan Proteins, Rosette Formation, alpha-Macroglobulins, Falciparum

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