Intraspecies antigenic diversity in the blood stages of the human malaria parasite Plasmodium falciparum was investigated using a collection of murine monoclonal antibodies and clones of the parasite. The results were as follows: (a) The schizont and merozoite stages of the parasite express on their surface clonally restricted antigens detectable by strain-specific antibodies in indirect immunofluorescence tests. (b) These restricted antigens are phenotypically stable characteristics of clones grown in vitro. (c) The molecules carrying the specific antigens were isolated by immunoprecipitation and were found to be parasite proteins ranging in size from Mr 190,000 to 200,000 between clones. (d) Comparative immunoprecipitation and peptide mapping of these molecules showed that each parasite clone expresses a protein that is antigenically and structurally distinct from the equivalent products of several other clones. (e) The different clonal products are, however, immunologically interrelated, since they possess determinants in common with all tested isolates of the parasite. (f) These polymorphic molecules are closely related to a previously described schizont protein of P. falciparum that is posttranslationally cleaved into fragments located on the merozoite surface. These findings show the existence of a family of related polymorphic schizont antigens (PSA) of P. falciparum, whose expression is clonally restricted, and indicate that these proteins have regions of constant and variable antigenicity. We propose that a system of immunological classification of the parasite can be developed based on the polymorphism of these proteins.

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