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Malaria accounts for an enormous burden of disease globally, with Plasmodium falciparum accounting for the majority of malaria, and P. vivax being a second important cause, especially in Asia, the Americas and the Pacific. During infection with Plasmodium spp., the merozoite form of the parasite invades red blood cells and replicates inside them. It is during the blood-stage of infection that malaria disease occurs and, therefore, understanding merozoite invasion, host immune responses to merozoite surface antigens, and targeting merozoite surface proteins and invasion ligands by novel vaccines and therapeutics have been important areas of research. Merozoite invasion involves multiple interactions and events, and substantial processing of merozoite surface proteins occurs before, during and after invasion. The merozoite surface is highly complex, presenting a multitude of antigens to the immune system. This complexity has proved challenging to our efforts to understand merozoite invasion and malaria immunity, and to developing merozoite antigens as malaria vaccines. In recent years, there has been major progress in this field, and several merozoite surface proteins show strong potential as malaria vaccines. Our current knowledge on this topic is reviewed, highlighting recent advances and research priorities.
Funding to the authors was provided by the National Health and Medical Research Council of Australia (Program grant and Senior Research Fellowship to JB; Early Career Fellowships to MB and JR; Infrastructure for Research Institutes Support Scheme Grant to the Burnet Institute); Australian Research Council (Future Fellowship to F. Fowkes); Victorian State Government Operational Infrastructure Support Grant to the Burnet Institute.
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