Malaria is caused by Plasmodium parasites, which invade and replicate in erythrocytes. For Plasmodium falciparum, the major cause of severe malaria in humans, a heterotrimeric complex comprised of the secreted parasite proteins, PfCyRPA, PfRIPR and PfRH5 is essential for erythrocyte invasion, mediated by the interaction between PfRH5 and erythrocyte receptor basigin (BSG). However, whilst CyRPA and RIPR are present in most Plasmodium species, RH5 is found only in the small Laverania subgenus. Existence of a complex analogous to PfRH5-PfCyRPA-PfRIPR targeting BSG, and involvement of CyRPA and RIPR in invasion, however, has not been addressed in non-Laverania parasites. Here, we establish that unlike P. falciparum, P. knowlesi and P. vivax do not universally require BSG as a host cell invasion receptor. Although we show that both PkCyRPA and PkRIPR are essential for successful invasion of erythrocytes by P. knowlesi parasites in vitro, neither protein forms a complex with each other or with an RH5-like molecule. Instead, PkRIPR is part of a different trimeric protein complex whereas PkCyRPA appears to function without other parasite binding partners. It therefore appears that in the absence of RH5, outside of the Laverania subgenus, RIPR and CyRPA have different, independent functions crucial for parasite survival.
Malaria is one of the most devastating infectious diseases, causing significant human suffering and death. It is caused by parasites of the genus Plasmodium proliferating in the bloodstream. Understanding the mechanism of erythrocyte invasion is key for developing novel intervention strategies. P. falciparum, the cause of the most severe form of malaria, requires the interaction of a trimeric protein complex RH5-CyRPA-RIPR with the host receptor BSG for successful invasion. We show here that the BSG receptor is not essential for invasion by two other major causes of human malaria, P. vivax and P. knowlesi. Furthermore, we analyzed the role of CyRPA and RIPR in the absence of an RH5-like molecule in P. knowlesi and show that these molecules do not associate to form a protein complex unlike in the presence of RH5 in P. falciparum. PkRIPR is part of a different protein complex. Despite this difference CyRPA and RIPR still have essential functions during host cell invasion in other important human malaria-causing parasites.