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Researchers discover how malaria parasite disperses from red blood cells

ned the blood cells green, the other stained the parasites red.

In the first stage of the merozoites' release, which the researchers dubbed the "irregular schizont" stage, the red blood cell resembles a lop-sided fried egg, with the parasites visible as a sphere near the center of the cell. (A diagram of the entire sequence appears at http://www.nichd.nih.gov/new/releases/malaria_graphic.cfm.) The cell's lop-sided appearance probably results from destruction of the cytoskeleton, the molecular scaffolding that helps the cell to maintain its rounded shape.

In the next stage, called the "flower" stage, the red blood cell assumes a roughly spherical shape, covered with rounded structures that resemble the petals of a flower. Shortly thereafter, the blood cell's membrane appears to break apart. At roughly the same time, cellular compartments, called vacuoles, which encase the newly formed merozoites, also break apart. The entire process has an explosive appearance, dispersing the merozoites some distance from the cell.

During the release, Dr. Zimmerberg explained, the cell membrane appears to collapse inward upon itself and fragment into pieces.

One previous theory held that the red blood cells and the merozoite-containing vacuoles inside them swelled and then burst like a balloon containing too much air.

"The swelling was an artifact of too much light from the microscope," Dr. Zimmerberg said. "The cell membrane was light sensitive. When we turned the light down, we didn't see the swelling." Rather, he said, upon release of the merozoites, the cell membrane appeared to contract in upon itself.

Another theory held that the merozoite-containing vacuoles would fuse with the cell membrane, and then release their contents.

"But we didn't see any fusion," Dr. Zimmerberg said.

The third theory held that the cell membrane ruptured, ex
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Source:NIH/National Institute of Child Health and Human Development


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