Some immune sera that inhibit erythrocyte invasion by merozoites also agglutinate the merozoites as they emerge from rupturing schizonts. These immune clusters of merozoites (ICM) possess a surface coat that is cross-linked by antibody and is thicker than the surface coat associated with normal merozoites (NM) obtained from cultures containing preimmune serum. Analysis of metabolically labeled ICM and NM performed by using sodium dodecyl sulfate-polyacrylamide gel electrophoresis showed that washed ICM possessed immune complexes containing antigens representative of schizonts and merozoites. Characteristics of the immune complexes included: a) they were not soluble in pH 8 Triton X-100, b) they were soluble at an acid pH, and c) after pH neutralization they were precipitated by using staphylococcal protein A. Merozoite antigens having Mr of 83, 73, and 45 kDa were associated with immune complexes in ICM. The 83 and 73 kDa antigens were recovered in considerably larger quantities from ICM than from NM. Schizont antigens having Mr of 230, 173 (triplet), 152 (doublet), and 31 kDa were associated with immune complexes in ICM, and a 195 kDa antigen(s) from schizonts and merozoites was also present in the immune complexes. In addition, other antigens of Mr 113, 101, 65, and 51 kDa may have been immune complexed. These 15 antigens accounted for less than 30% of the schizont and merozoite antigens recognized by the immune serum. Immune complexes probably formed between antibodies and a) surface antigens of schizont-infected erythrocytes exposed to antibody before schizont rupture, b) surface antigens of merozoites and schizonts exposed during schizont rupture, and c) soluble antigens normally released during schizont rupture. The antibody components of the immune complexes may have prevented rapid degradation or shedding of some antigens from the merozoite surface. Allowing schizonts to rupture in the presence of inhibitory antibodies (to form ICM) is a useful approach to identifying exposed targets of protective immunity against malaria.

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