Homeostasis and volume regulation in the Plasmodium falciparum infected red blood cell
The thesis reports on the application of advanced microanalytical techniques to answer a fundamental open question on the homeostasis of Plasmodium falciparum infected red blood cells, namely how infected cells retain their integrity for the duration of the parasite asexual reproduction cycle. The volume and shape changes of infected cells were measured and characterized at femtolitre resolution throughout the intraerythrocytic cycle using confocal microscopy. Fluorescence lifetime imaging and electron probe X-ray microanalysis were applied for the quantification of intracellular haemoglobin and electrolyte concentrations. The cytomechanical properties of uninfected and infected red cells were studied using a novel optical stretcher device, which enabled individual cells to be trapped and manipulated optomechanically in microfluidic channels. Combined, these methods offered a unique insight into the homeostatic and rheological behaviour of malaria-infected red cells. The results were analysed by comparison with predictions from a detailed physiological model of the homeostasis and volume regulation of infected cells, providing broad support to the view that excess haemoglobin consumptions by the parasite was necessary for the integrity of infected cells (the colloidosmotic hypothesis). The dissertation is introduced with an overview of malaria, red blood cells homeostasis and the changes induced by Plasmodium falciparum infection. In the following, this description is extended to an in-depth theoretical analysis of the infected red blood cell homeostasis, from which the need to characterise certain parameters arises. The subsequent chapters address sequentially the assessment of the haemoglobin and electrolyte concentration, cell shape and volume changes and ultimately alterations in cell elasticity. The experimental part is complemented with a comparison of the resulting data to the predictions from the theoretical analysis and an outlook on future work.