The malaria parasite-infected erythrocyte is a multi-compartment structure, incorporating numerous different membrane systems. The movement of nutrients, metabolites and inorganic ions into and out of the intraerythrocytic parasite, as well as between subcellular compartments within the parasite, is mediated by transporters and channels - integral membrane proteins that facilitate the movement of solutes across the membrane bilayer. Proteins of this type also play a key role in antimalarial drug resistance. Genes encoding transporters and channels account for at least 2.5% of the parasite genome. However, ascribing functions and physiological roles to these proteins, and defining their roles in drug resistance, is not straightforward. For any given membrane transport protein, a full understanding of its role(s) in the parasitized erythrocyte requires a knowledge of its subcellular localization and substrate specificity, as well as some knowledge of the effects on the parasite of modifying the sequence and/or level of expression of the gene involved. Here we consider recent work in this area, describe a number of newly identified transport proteins, and summarize the likely subcellular localization and putative substrate specificity of all of the candidate membrane transport proteins identified to date.
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