Experts identify a potential new target for antimalarial development

A protein that plays an important biological role in the malaria-causing parasite has been discovered by an international research team. The deactivation of this protein decreases in vitro growth of Plasmodium falciparum—the protozoa that hold responsible for the most infectious form of the disease—by over 75%.

Image Credit: Justinboat.29/Shutterstock

Image Credit: Justinboat.29/Shutterstock

The research team was headed by Professor Dave Richard of Université Laval, and the researchers recently published the discovery’s details in the scientific journal mBio.

This breakthrough could lead to the development of a treatment that targets a function of the parasite that no malaria drug has yet exploited.”

Dave Richard, Professor, Faculty of Medicine, Université Laval

Professor Richard is also a researcher at CHU de Québec–Université Laval Research Centre.

Through mosquito bites, Plasmodium falciparum is transmitted to humans. Upon infecting the liver of the host, it circulates in the blood—by hiding within red blood cells and, eventually, blocking attacks from the immune system.

The main food source of the parasite is hemoglobin—the protein that takes oxygen from the red blood cells to the other parts of the body. The parasite digests the hemoglobin in structures known as digestive vacuoles.

The protein we discovered, PfPX1, is involved in transporting hemoglobin to these digestive vacuoles. When we deactivate PfPX1, we deprive the parasite of its main source of amino acids. This has an impact on its growth and survival.”

Dave Richard, Professor, Faculty of Medicine, Université Laval

With these findings, Richard sees a likely new method to combat malaria. He states, “We could block the parasite’s PfPX1 protein from performing its functions. Since the protein isn’t present in humans, there would be decreased risk of disrupting any important functions in the human body.”

Including Sub-Saharan Africa, malaria continues to outbreak in several parts of the world. In 2020, 241 million people were infected with malaria, among which 627,000 people were deceased. Children below the age of five and expectant mothers are mainly affected by this disease.

The World Health Organization acknowledged the first vaccine for malaria vaccine last year, but Richard believes it is important to keep the exploration of new therapeutic avenues on.

As we have seen with COVID-19, new strains can continue to emerge and threaten the effectiveness of vaccines. What’s more, strains resistant to artemisinin, the main anti-parasite drug used against malaria, have already emerged in Southeast Asia. To maintain treatment efficacy and reduce the risk of new drug-resistant strains, it is important to combine therapeutic approaches, as we do with AIDS.

Dave Richard, Professor, Faculty of Medicine, Université Laval

Professor Richard concludes, “Our discovery may well have a role to play in the fight against malaria.”

Source:
Journal reference:
  • Mukherjee, A., et al. (2022) A Phosphoinositide-Binding Protein Acts in the Trafficking Pathway of Hemoglobin in the Malaria Parasite Plasmodium falciparum. mBio. https://doi.org/10.1128/mbio.03239-21.

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