The kinetics of sickling of malaria-infected red cells from humans with sickle cell trait were studied in vitro in an attempt to obtain direct experimental evidence for a selective advantage of the hemoglobin S heterozygote in a malarious region. The sickling rates of cells infected with Plasmodium falciparum and of non-infected cells were studied both in the total absence of oxygen (by dithionite addition) and at several different concentrations of oxyhemoglobin which might obtain in vivo. In all cases, red cells containing small plasmodium parasite forms (ring forms) sickled approximately eight times as readily as uninfected cells. Cells containing large parasitic forms (trophozoites and schizonts) appeared to sickle less readily than uninfected cells, by light microscopy criteria, but electron micrographs demonstrated the presence of polymerized deoxyhemoglobin S with a high frequency. It is concluded that enhanced sickling of plasmodium-infected AS cells may be one mechanism whereby the hemoglobin S polymorphism is balanced in favor of the heterozygote.

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