Kliniken & Institute … Institute Zentrum für… Parasitology Unit Research Current Groups Kilian lab

Malaria Research: Kilian

Research interest

The Kilian lab investigates novel secretory organelles generated by malaria parasites to establish host-parasite interaction.

The asexual replication of the malaria parasite Plasmodium falciparum occurs in the red blood cells of the human host and is responsible for the symptoms and disease severity experienced by patients suffering from malaria tropica.

To ensure survival and successful procreation within the organelle-deprived host red blood cells, Plasmodium falciparum commences to reorganize the cytoplasm of the host cell. This cumulates in the generation of a novel secretory organelle outside the parasite’s own cell within the cytoplasm of the red blood cell. The secretory organelle was named Maurer’s clefts in the honor of Georg Maurer who first discovered the structure in 1902. The importance of the Maurer’s clefts is undeniable and failure to properly generate this organelle hampers host-parasite interaction, which can culminate in the clearance of the infected red blood cell by the spleen. More than 100 years after their discovery, the Maurer’s clefts still remain mysterious. The Kilian lab aims to decipher this fascinating organelle.

The erythrocytic schizogony of P. falciparum (A). Merozoites infect the red blood cells where they develop into ring, trophozoite and schizont. During that time the parasite generates the Maurer’s clefts. During the ring stage the organelle has a vesicular shape. In the mature trophozoite and schizont stages the Maurer’s clefts are flattened single or stacked cisternae. The Maurer’s clefts are crucial for trafficking the parasite protein PfEMP1 (P. falciparum erythrocyte membrane protein 1) to the red blood cell surface (B). There the protein is presented on red blood cell plasma membrane protrusions, so called knobs, which are generated by the parasite as well (C). Proper presentation of PfEMP1 is crucial to enable cytoadherence of the infected red blood cell to endothelial cells which line the blood vessel wall. Cytoadherence removes the infected red blood cell from the peripheral blood to avoid the passage of the spleen, where deformed red blood cells infected with mature developmental stages of the parasite are removed from circulation. Hidden away in the vascular bed of inner organs such as the brain, the parasite is able to complete the erythrocytic schizogony by producing merozoites which commence and infect new red blood cells. E: red blood cell, PVM: parasitophorous vacuolar membrane, MC: Maurer’s clefts, K: knobs, PM: red blood cell plasma membrane, CP: cytoplasm. Image credit: Kilian et al., 2020 (BioEssays).

Sanchez CP, Patra P, Chang SS, Karathanasis C, Hanebutte L, Kilian N, Cyrklaff M, Heilemann M, Schwarz US, Kudryashev M, Lanzer M. "KAHRP dynamically relocalizes to remodeled actin junctions and associates with knob spirals in Plasmodium falciparum-infected erythrocytes" Mol Microbiol. 2022 Feb;117(2):274-292. doi: 10.1111/mmi.14811. Epub 2021 Sep 22. PMID: 34514656.

Ganter M†, Guizetti J† and Kilian N† "Visualization of Infected Red Blood Cell Surface Antigens by Fluorescence Microscopy" Methods Mol Biol. 2022;2470:425-433. doi: 10.1007/978-1-0716-2189-9_31. PMID: 35881363.


Sanchez CP, Patra P, Chang SY, Karathanasis C, Hanebutte L, Kilian N, Cyrklaff M, Heilemann M, Schwarz US, Kudryashev M, Lanzer M “KAHRP Dynamically Relocalizes to Remodeled Actin Junctions and Associates with Knob Spirals in P. falciparum-Infected Erythrocytes” Mol Microbiol. 2021 Sep 13. doi: 10.1111/mmi.14811.

Broichhagen J† and Kilian N† “Chemical Biology Tools to Investigate Malaria Parasites” Chembiochem. 2021 Jul 1;22(13):2219-2236. Review article. †Corresponding authors

Song JE, Alves T, Stutz B, Sestan-Pesa M, Kilian N, Diano S, Kibbey RG and Horvath TL “Mitochondrial Fission Governed by Drp1 Regulates Exogenous Fatty Acid Usage and Storage” Metabolites. 2021 May 18;11(5):322.


 Kilian N†, Zhang Y, LaMonica L, Hooker G, Toomre D, Ben Mamoun C† and Ernst AM† “Palmitoylated Proteins in Plasmodium falciparum-Infected Erythrocytes: Investigation with Click Chemistry and Metabolic Labeling” Bioessays. 2020 Jun;42(6). †Corresponding authors

Gitta B† and Kilian N† “Diagnosis of Malaria Parasites Plasmodium spp. in Endemic Areas: Current Strategies for an Ancient Disease” Bioessays. 2020 Jan;42(1). Review article. †Corresponding authors


Thekkiniath J, Kilian N, Lawres L, Gewirtz MA, Graham MM, Liu X, Ledizet M and Ben Mamoun C “Evidence for Vesicle-Mediated Antigen Export by the Human Pathogen Babesia microti” Life Science Alliance. 2019 Jun 13;2(3).


Abraham A, Brasov I, Thekkiniath J, Kilian N, Lawres L, Gao R, DeBus K, He L, Yu X, Zhu G, Graham M, Liu X, Molestina R and Ben Mamoun C “Establishment of a Continuous in vitro Culture of Babesia duncani in Human Erythrocytes Reveals Unusually High Tolerance to Recommended Therapies” Journal of Biological Chemistry. 2018 Dec 28;293(52): 19974-19981.

Kilian N, Choi JY, Voelker DR and Ben Mamoun C “Role of Phospholipid Synthesis in the Development and Differentiation of Malaria Parasites in the Blood” Journal of Biological Chemistry. 2018 Nov 9;293(45):17308-17316. Review article. 

Kilian N*, Goryaynov A*, Lessard MD, Hooker G, Toomre D, Rothman JE and Bewersdorf J “Assessing Photodamage in Live-Cell STED Microscopy” Nature Methods. 2018 Oct;15(10):755-756. *Equal contribution


Bottanelli F, Kilian N, Ernst AM, Rivera-Molina F, Schroeder LK, Kromann EB, Lessard MD, Erdmann RS, Schepartz A, Baddeley D, Bewersdorf J, Toomre D and Rothman JE “A Novel Physiological Role for ARF1 in the Formation of Bi-Directional Tubules from the Golgi” Molecular Biology of the Cell. 2017 Jun 15;28(12):1676-1687.


Kilian N*, Sirismith S*, Dittmer M, Ouermi D, Bisseye C, Simpore J, Cyrklaff M, Sanchez CP and Lanzer M “Hemoglobins S and C Affect Protein Export in Plasmodium falciparum-Infected Erythrocytes” Biology Open. 2015 Feb 20; 4(3):400-10. *Equal contribution


Kilian N*, Dittmer M*, Cyrklaff M, Ouermi D, Bisseye C, Simpore J, Frischknecht F, Sanchez CP and Lanzer M “Hemoglobin S and C Affect the Motion of Maurer’s Clefts in Plasmodium falciparum-Infected Erythrocytes” Cellular Microbiology. 2013 Jul; 15(7):1111-2. *Equal contribution


Cyrklaff M, Sanchez CP, Kilian N, Bisseye C, Simpore J, Frischknecht F and Lanzer M “Hemoglobins S and C Interfere with Actin Remodeling in Plasmodium falciparum-Infected Erythrocytes” Science. 2011 Dec 2; 334(6060):1283-6.


Henrich P, Kilian N, Lanzer M and Cyrklaff M “3-D Analysis of the Plasmodium falciparum Maurer's Clefts Using Different Electron Tomographic Approaches” Biotechnology Journal. 2009 Jun; 4(6):888-94.

News - Kilian group

Podcast episode with Nicole

Our newest addition to the outreach activities of our department: Nicole has been interviewed for “The Life in Science” podcast series by Arjun Udupa, MSc student in Molecular Biosciences at Heidelberg University. For this new podcast, which is available on spotify, Arjun interviews scientists from Heidelberg with different backgrounds and in different career stages. As listener you get a more personal insight and a better understanding on what drives a person to follow this for sure not easy career pathway. The podcast series is still rather young but we are positive Arjun is already now busily looking for the next batch of scientists to interview.  

Tune in to Arjun’s podcast! (especially the interview with Nicole, of course)

Interview series in Advanced Science News

Since May 2021 Nicole Kilian has been interviewing scientists from different fiels for "Advanced Science News".

Check out her interviews like the one with Steven Hawley, astrophysicist and retired NASA astronaut, or with Canan Dağdeviren, bioengineer and principal investigator at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) Media Lab or with Albert Zink, director at the Institute for Mummy Studies at Eurac Research in Bolzano, Italy or or or...

Also very interesting is her latest interview with Gautam Dey, a biologist currently working at EMBL Heidelberg and investigating "the control center of the cell that hosts the DNA".

Not only interesting for scientists! (especially since you also get to know some pieces of personal information like the favorite dish / travel destination / music, hobbies etc.). And aren't you curious to know which discovery the interviewee would wish to have made him/herself?

How to get in touch:

Dr. Nicole Kilian 

Centre for Infectious Diseases, Parasitology

Heidelberg University Hospital

Im Neuenheimer Feld 324 (3rd floor)

69120 Heidelberg, Germany

Tel. +49 (0)6221 56-22859