Cryosections of human red blood cells infected by Plasmodium falciparum were analyzed by energy dispersive x-ray microanalysis to determine the elemental composition of the parasites and their red cell hosts separately. The effects of two antimalarial drugs, qinghaosu and chloroquine, on potassium, sodium, and phosphorus concentrations were studied. Malarial infection causes a decrease in potassium concentration and an increase in sodium concentration in the host red cells. The drastic change in the cation composition, however, occurs only in red cells infected by late stage parasites (late trophozoite and schizont). Red cells infected by early stage parasites (ring stage) show only small changes in sodium concentration. Furthermore, the noninfected red cells in parasitized cultures show no difference in composition from those of normal red cells. Treatment of the parasitized cultures with qinghaosu (10-6 M) or chloroquine (10-6 M) for 8 hr causes phosphorus concentration of both early and late parasites to decrease. An 8 hr treatment with qinghaosu also produces a reduction in potassium and an increase in sodium concentrations in early and late parasites. In contrast, 8 hr treatment with chloroquine only causes a change in the sodium and potassium concentrations of the late stage parasites and does not affect the early stage parasites.