We have compared the surface radio-iodinated proteins of uninfected and Plasmodium falciparum-infected erythrocytes from natural infections of human patients. Cryopreserved infected blood from Gambian children with falciparum malaria was thawed, cultured to the middle trophozoite stage, and surface radio-iodinated. Trophozoite-infected cells were enriched about 10-fold on a Percoll gradient newly designed to separate cells based on their differential permeability to sorbitol. Infected blood was radio-iodinated and erythrocyes from the fraction enriched in parasitized cells and uninfected erythrocytes from the same sample obtained from the gradient and compared by SDS–PAGE and autoradiography. In each sample, parasitized erythrocytes contained one or more polypeptides of very high molecular weight (Mr 250000–300000) that were not found on uninfected erythrocytes from the same patient. These proteins were isolate-specific in size and number, suggesting that natural isolates contain a variable number of different P. falciparum phenotypes for this surface protein. In addition, these radio-iodinated surface proteins could not be extracted from the host cell membrane by the non-ionic detergent Triton X-100, but were extracted by SDS. The properties of these proteins suggest they are the equivalent for natural infections of the strain-dependent antigen previously described (Leech, Barnwell, Miller & Howard, 1984) on the surface of P. falciparum-infected Aotus erythrocytes. In addition, we observed a second parasite-dependent modification of labelled proteins on infected erythrocytes with the appearance of a new band of Mr 30000. There were also variations in the pattern of radio-isotope labelled proteins on uninfected erythrocytes from different patients.