A researcher has identified a new pathway used by the malaria parasite to infect human cells.
The discovery, by researchers at The Walter and Eliza Hall Institute, provides a new vaccine target through which infection with the deadly disease could be prevented.
The most lethal form of malaria is caused by the parasite Plasmodium falciparum.
For decades, it has been known that malaria parasites use proteins called glycophorins as a means of entering red blood cells.
This new research reveals an alternative pathway used by the parasite to enter red blood cells.
The pathway does not involve glycophorins, instead requiring the binding of a parasite molecule named PfRh4 to Complement Receptor 1 (CR1), a common protein found on the surface of red blood cells.
Professor Alan Cowman Cowman said the PfRh family of surface proteins is involved in the recognition of red blood cell receptors, which allows the parasite to attach to the red blood cell surface and gain entry.
The research was published in the journal Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences USA.