Cerebral malaria is thought to involve specific attachment of Plasmodium falciparum-infected knobby red cells to venular endothelium. The nature of surface ligands on host endothelial cells that may mediate cytoadherence is poorly understood. We have investigated the effects of soluble thrombospondin, rabbit antiserum raised against thrombospondin, and human immune serum on cytoadherence of parasitized erythrocytes in ex vivo mesocecum vasculature. Preincubation of infected red cells with soluble thrombospondin or human immune serum inhibits binding of infected red cells to rat venular endothelium. Infusion of the microcirculatory preparation with rabbit antithrombospondin antibodies before perfusion of parasitized erythrocytes also resulted in decreased cytoadherence. In addition, incubation of infected cells with human immune sera obtained from malaria patients significantly inhibited the observed cytoadherence. Our results indicate that thrombospondin mediates binding of infected red cells to venular endothelium and may thus be involved in the pathogenesis of cerebral malaria.