1. Physics of Living Systems
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Effect of malaria parasite shape on its alignment at erythrocyte membrane

  1. Anil K Dasanna
  2. Sebastian Hillringhaus
  3. Gerhard Gompper
  4. Dmitry A Fedosov  Is a corresponding author
  1. Forschungszentrum Juelich, Germany
  2. Forschungszentrum Jülich, Germany
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Cite this article as: eLife 2021;10:e68818 doi: 10.7554/eLife.68818


During the blood stage of malaria pathogenesis, parasites invade healthy red blood cells (RBC) to multiply inside the host and evade the immune response. When attached to RBC, the parasite first has to align its apex with the membrane for a successful invasion. Since the parasite's apex sits at the pointed end of an oval (egg-like) shape with a large local curvature, apical alignment is in general an energetically un-favorable process. Previously, using coarse-grained mesoscopic simulations, we have shown that optimal alignment time is achieved due to RBC membrane deformation and the stochastic nature of bond-based interactions between the parasite and RBC membrane (Hillringhaus et al., 2020). Here, we demonstrate that the parasite's shape has a prominent effect on the alignment process. The alignment times of spherical parasites for intermediate and large bond off-rates (or weak membrane-parasite interactions) are found to be close to those of an egg-like shape. However, for small bond off-rates (or strong adhesion and large membrane deformations), the alignment time for a spherical shape increases drastically. Parasite shapes with large aspect ratios such as oblate and long prolate ellipsoids are found to exhibit very long alignment times in comparison to the egg-like shape. At a stiffened RBC, spherical parasite aligns faster than any other investigated shapes. This study shows that the original egg-like shape performs not worse for parasite alignment than other considered shapes, but is more robust with respect to different adhesion interactions and RBC membrane rigidities.

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All data generated or analysed during this study are included in the manuscript and supporting files. Source data for all figures are provided.

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Author details

  1. Anil K Dasanna

    Institute of Biological Information Processing, Forschungszentrum Juelich, Juelich, Germany
    Competing interests
    The authors declare that no competing interests exist.
    ORCID icon "This ORCID iD identifies the author of this article:" 0000-0001-5960-4579
  2. Sebastian Hillringhaus

    Institute of Biological Information Processing, Forschungszentrum Juelich, Juelich, Germany
    Competing interests
    The authors declare that no competing interests exist.
    ORCID icon "This ORCID iD identifies the author of this article:" 0000-0003-0100-9368
  3. Gerhard Gompper

    Theoretical Soft Matter and Biophysics, Institute of Complex Systems and Institute for Advanced Simulation, Forschungszentrum Jülich, Jülich, Germany
    Competing interests
    The authors declare that no competing interests exist.
    ORCID icon "This ORCID iD identifies the author of this article:" 0000-0002-8904-0986
  4. Dmitry A Fedosov

    Institute of Biological Information Processing, Forschungszentrum Juelich, Juelich, Germany
    For correspondence
    Competing interests
    The authors declare that no competing interests exist.
    ORCID icon "This ORCID iD identifies the author of this article:" 0000-0001-7469-9844


International Helmholtz Research School of Biophysics and Soft Matter

  • Sebastian Hillringhaus

The funders had no role in study design, data collection and interpretation, or the decision to submit the work for publication.

Reviewing Editor

  1. Raymond E Goldstein, University of Cambridge, United Kingdom

Publication history

  1. Received: March 29, 2021
  2. Accepted: July 20, 2021
  3. Accepted Manuscript published: July 21, 2021 (version 1)


© 2021, Dasanna et al.

This article is distributed under the terms of the Creative Commons Attribution License permitting unrestricted use and redistribution provided that the original author and source are credited.


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