The molecular basis of host cell traversal by malaria parasites

The molecular basis of host cell traversal by malaria parasites

Project details

The first stage of malaria occurs in the liver. The sporozoite form of the malaria parasite injected by a mosquito must navigate from the dermis to the liver before infecting hepatocytes (Boddey and Cowman, Annual Review of Microbiology 201367: 243-269).

We have identified proteins in the deadly parasite Plasmodium falciparum that allow sporozoites to migrate through human cells to infect the liver. This project will use the Institute’s insectary to study the biophysical events that occur during parasite traversal through host cells. This includes studying parasite protein complexes by mass spectrometry, biophysical analyses of host membrane lysis and identification of host cell receptors mediating parasite entry into human cells by a CRISPR screen. 

This project will illuminate how parasites glide through cells to establish liver infection. 


About our research group 

Our laboratory is interested in understanding the molecular basis of how malaria parasites infect mosquitoes as this allows the widespread transmission of this devastating disease. We are also interested in understanding how parasites injected by mosquitoes infect the human liver. 

Previous studies have proven that genetically weakened liver-stage parasites are destroyed by the immune system. This provides protective immunity and therefore could deliver the first malaria vaccine. The mosquito and liver stages of malaria therefore provide exciting opportunities to block the spread of malaria and to develop an urgently needed vaccine for this disease.

Schematic diagram of malaria transmission
Following a mosquito bite, malarial sporozoites traverse through host cells in order to navigate from the skin and infect the liver. 



Dr Justin Boddey

Dr Justin Boddey in the lab
Laboratory Head

Professor Alan Cowman

Professor Alan Cowman in the lab
Deputy Director and Joint Division Head

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