Plasmodium falciparum malaria merozoites invade human erythrocytes bearing sialic acid in a multistage process involving the sialic acid-dependent binding of a malaria molecule, the 175-kD erythrocyte binding antigen (EBA-175). We show here that after the initial interaction of EBA-175 with its sialic acid-containing erythrocyte determinant, endogenous proteases can cleave EBA-175 to 65-kD fragment(s), whose binding to erythrocytes is sialic acid independent. A 65-kD fragment was immunoprecipitated by antibodies against peptides between residues 354 and 1061 but not beyond residue 1062. Binding experiments utilizing combinations of native protein, expression-PCR-synthesized EBA-175 polypeptides, peptide synthesis, and antibodies, demonstrated that sialic acid-independent binding could be further mapped to a small (about 40-amino acid) homologous part of the dimorphic allelic region of EBA-175, residues 898-938 (Camp strain numbering). These data support a two-step binding hypothesis and are discussed in relation to the formation of a junction between the merozoite and the erythrocyte, and the finding that after the interaction of some viruses with specific cellular receptors, they undergo conformational changes or cleavage permitting membrane fusion with the host cell.

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