Plasmodium sporozoites invade host hepatocytes and develop as liver stages (LS) before the onset of erythrocytic infection and malaria symptoms. LS are clinically silent, and constitute ideal targets for causal prophylactic drugs and vaccines. The molecular and cellular mechanisms underlying LS development remain poorly characterized. Here we describe a conserved Plasmodium asparagine-rich protein that is specifically expressed in sporozoites and liver stages. Gene disruption in Plasmodium berghei results in complete loss of sporozoite infectivity to rodents, due to early developmental arrest after invasion of hepatocytes. Mutant sporozoites productively invade host cells by forming a parasitophorous vacuole (PV), but subsequent remodelling of the membrane of the PV (PVM) is impaired as a consequence of dramatic down-regulation of genes encoding PVM-resident proteins. These early arrested mutants confer only limited protective immunity in immunized animals. Our results demonstrate the role of an asparagine-rich protein as a key regulator of Plasmodium sporozoite gene expression and LS development, and suggest a requirement of partial LS maturation to induce optimal protective immune responses against malaria pre-erythrocytic stages. These findings have important implications for the development of genetically attenuated parasites as a vaccine approach.