Antigenic Variation in Malaria
Antigenic variation of malaria parasites was discovered in P. knowlesi, using a schizont-infected cell agglutination (SICA) assay to detect variant antigens expressed at the surface of infected erythrocytes. Later studies utilizing stable clones, Pk1(A+) and its direct derivative, Pk1(B+)1+, showed that SICA[+] clones express distinct parasite-encoded antigens of ∼200 kDa. Here we identify a P. knowlesi variant antigen gene and cDNA and demonstrate that it encodes the 205 kDa variant antigen expressed by B+ parasites. This gene belongs to a multigene family, which we term SICAvar. Its ten-exon structure with seven cysteine-rich coding modules is unique compared to P. falciparum var genes. Further, we highlight a 3′ genomic alteration that we predict is related to SICAvar gene switching.