Unique Features Of Heme-Biosynthetic Pathway In The Human Malaria Parasite, Plasmodium Falciparum
Malaria is a life-threatening vector borne infectious disease caused by protozoan parasites of the genus Plasmodium. More than 100 species of Plasmodium can infect numerous animal species such as reptiles, birds and various mammals. However, human malaria is caused by four Plasmodium species -Plasmodium falciparum, Plasmodium vivax, Plasmodium ovale and Plasmodium malariae, and occasionally by the simian malaria parasite, Plasmodium knowlesi. Of these, P. falciparum and P. vivax are the major causative agents and P. falciparum is the most virulent. About 300-500 million malaria infections occur every year leading to over 1-2 million deaths, of which 75% occur in African children of less than 5 years infected with P. falciparum. In spite of major global efforts to eliminate this disease over the past few decades, it continues to persist as a major affliction of human-kind imposing serious health and economic burden, especially to the poor countries. In India, the present scenario is about 2 million malaria positive cases every year, with almost 50% being caused by P. falciparum. Although remarkable attempts have been made over the years to develop vaccines against sexual and asexual stages of malaria parasite, an effective vaccine is still not in sight and remains as a distant goal. Hence, highly potent, less toxic and affordable antimalarial drugs remain as a first line therapy for malaria. Unfortunately, these parasites have been evolving against every known antimalarial drug and many of these drugs have lost their potency due to rapid emergence and spread of drug resistant strains. With development of resistance against frontline antimalarials such as chloroquine and antifolates, artemisinin and its derivatives seem to be the only effective antimalarials. However, recent reports on the possible emergence of artemisinin resistant strains, have led to the implementation of artemisinin-based combination therapies as a strategy to prevent drug resistance. Also, this continuous emergence of drug resistance has necessitated the development of new antimalarial drugs to combat this disease. While, Anopheles mosquitoes transmit parasites that infect humans, monkeys and rodents, Culex and Aedes mosquitoes predominate in the natural transmission to birds, and vectors of reptilian parasites are largely unknown. Of the approximately 400 species of Anopheles throughout the world, about 60 are malaria vectors under natural conditions, and 30 of which are of major importance. Ironically, the strategies implemented for controlling Anopheles, have also been hampered by insecticide resistance and other practical difficulties that exist in the scope of their applicability. In the past few years several milestones have been achieved in parasite genome, transcriptome and proteome studies, which could be exploited for the development of new drugs and drug targets. One such promising target includes the metabolic pathways of the malaria parasite which differ significantly from its human host. This thesis entitled “Unique Features of the Heme-Biosynthetic Pathway in Human Malaria Parasite, Plasmodium falciparum” unravels the unique biochemical features of heme-biosynthetic enzymes of P. falciparum, which have the potential for being drug targets. This pathway was first identified in this laboratory over 15 years ago. In the present study, five of the 7 enzymes of this pathway have been cloned, expressed, properties studied and sites of localization identified. With the knowledge on the first two enzymes coming from earlier studies, it is now possible to depict the unique hybrid pathway for heme biosynthesis in P. falciparum with full experimental validation.
- Biochemistry (BC)