The most severe form of human malaria is caused by Plasmodium falciparum. Its virulence is closely linked to the increase in rigidity of infected erythrocytes and their adhesion to endothelial receptors, obstructing blood flow to vital organs. Unlike other human-infecting Plasmodium species, P. falciparum exports a family of 18 FIKK serine/threonine kinases into the host cell, suggesting that phosphorylation may modulate erythrocyte modifications.
Malaria parasites proliferate by repeated invasion of and multiplication within erythrocytes in the vertebrate host. Sexually committed intraerythrocytic parasites undergo sexual stage differentiation to become gametocytes. After ingestion by the mosquito, male and female gametocytes egress from erythrocytes and fertilize within the mosquito midgut. A complex signaling pathway likely responds to environmental events to trigger gametogenesis and regulate fertilization; however, such knowledge remains limited for malaria parasites.