Monolayers of human erythrocytes (E) infected with Plasmodium falciparum were briefly fixed with 1% glutaraldehyde and air dried. They were then exposed to sera from patients with P. falciparum malaria or from donors immune to this parasite and tested in an indirect immunofluorescence assay (IFA). Parasites in infected E were made visible by counterstaining with ethidium bromide. Immunofluorescence (IF) was restricted to the surface of infected E. No antibody binding was detected unless the E were dried, suggesting that the relevant antigens were not available on the outer layers of the E surface. Staining over large parts of the E surface was seen already when the merozoite penetrated noninfected cells and was strong in E containing early stages of the parasite (rings, trophozoites). It was weak or absent from E containing schizonts. Antibodies in sera from different parts of Africa, Colombia, or Sweden reacted similarly with E infected with a Tanzanian P. falciparum strain kept in culture for many years and with parasitized E freshly drawn from African, Swedish, or Colombian patients. All sera from residents of a holoendemic area (Liberia) were IFA positive. In contrast, some sera from Colombian or Swedish patients with primary infection gave negative results. The results of the IFA and of an enzyme-linked immunosorbent assay in which fixed and dried E were the targets were well-correlated, suggesting that the same antibodies were detected by these assays. The antigens involved in the IFA were susceptible to pronase but not to trypsin or neuraminidase. E surface IF was inhibited by lysates of infected E, merozoite extracts, or soluble antigens present in P. falciparum culture supernatants but not by lysates of normal E or ghost extracts. The inhibitory antigens were heat stable (100 degrees C, 5 min). Sodium dodecyl sulfate-polyacrylamide gel electrophoresis followed by immunoblotting of either antigen-enriched preparations from culture supernatants or merozoite extracts showed that antibodies eluted from monolayers of infected E reacted consistently with a predominant polypeptide of Mr 155,000 and two to four minor polypeptides of lower molecular weights. Metabolic labeling of the parasites with 75Se-methionine indicated that these antigens were parasite derived. We conclude that the antigens involved in these reactions are released from bursting schizonts or merozoites and are deposited in the E membrane in the course of invasion.(ABSTRACT TRUNCATED AT 400 WORDS)

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