Normal red cells deform markedly as they pass through the spleen and the peripheral capillaries. In these studies, the effects of Plasmodium falciparum infection and maturation on the deformability of parasitized red cells exposed to fluid shear stress in vitro were examined by means of a rheoscope. Red cells containing the early (ring) erythrocytic stage of the parasite have impaired deformability at physiologic shear stresses, and recover their normal shape more slowly. Red cells containing more mature parasites (trophozoites or schizonts) exhibit no deformation under the same conditions. These results provide a mechanism to explain the ability of the spleen to remove parasitized red cells from the circulation of both immune and nonimmune hosts.

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