Plasmodium falciparum is the protozoan parasite that causes most malaria-associated morbidity and mortality in humans with over 500,000 deaths annually. The disease symptoms are associated with repeated cycles of invasion and asexual multiplication inside red blood cells of the parasite. Partial, non-sterile immunity to P. falciparum malaria develops only after repeated infections and continuous exposure. The successful evasion of the human immune system relies on the large repertoire of antigenically diverse parasite proteins displayed on the red blood cell surface and on the merozoite membrane where they are exposed to the human immune system. Expression switching of these polymorphic proteins between asexual parasite generations provides an efficientmechanism to adapt to the changing environment in the host and to maintain chronic infection. This chapter discusses antigenic diversity and variation in the malaria parasite and our current understanding of the molecular mechanisms that direct the expression of these proteins.
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