Plasmodium vivax and the related monkey malaria, P. knowlesi, require interaction with the Duffy blood group antigen, a receptor for a family of chemokines that includes interleukin 8, to invade human erythrocytes. One P. vivax and three P. knowlesi proteins that serve as erythrocyte binding ligands in such interactions share sequence homology. Expression of different regions of the P. vivax protein in COS7 cells identified a cysteine-rich domain that bound Duffy blood group-positive but not Duffy blood group-negative human erythrocytes. The homologous domain of the P. knowlesi proteins also bound erythrocytes, but had different specificities. The P. vivax and P. knowlesi binding domains lie in one of two regions of homology with the P. falciparum sialic acid binding protein, another erythrocyte binding ligand, indicating conservation of the domain for erythrocyte binding in evolutionarily distant malaria species. The binding domains of these malaria ligands represent potential vaccine candidates and targets for receptor-blockade therapy.

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