Monday, August 4, 2014

Researchers uncover how malaria parasite becomes resistant to fosmidomycin drug

Researchers have uncovered a way the malaria parasite becomes resistant to an investigational drug. The discovery, at Washington University School of Medicine in St. Louis, also is relevant for other infectious diseases including bacterial infections and tuberculosis.
The study appears July 24 in Nature Communications.

Many organisms, including the parasite that causes malaria, make a class of molecules called isoprenoids, which play multiple roles in keeping organisms healthy, whether plants, animals or bacteria. In malaria, the investigational drug fosmidomycin blocks isoprenoid synthesis, killing the parasite. But over time the drug often becomes less effective.
"In trials testing fosmidomycin, the malaria parasite returned in more than half the children by the end of the study," said senior author Audrey R. Odom, MD, PhD, assistant professor of pediatrics. "We wanted to know how the parasite is getting around the drug. How can it manage to live even though the drug is suppressing these compounds that are necessary for life?"

Fosmidomycin, an antibiotic, is being evaluated against malaria in phase 3 clinical trials in combination with other antimalarial drugs.

Using next-generation sequencing technology, the research team compared the genetics of malaria parasites that responded to the drug to the genetics of malaria parasites that were resistant to it. With this approach, Odom and her colleagues found mutations in a gene called PfHAD1. With dysfunctional PfHAD1, malaria is resistant to fosmidomycin.
"The PfHAD1 protein is completely unstudied," Odom said. "It's a member of a larger family of proteins, and there are almost no biological functions assigned to them."

In malaria parasites, Odom's team showed that the PfHAD1 protein normally slows down the synthesis of isoprenoids. In other words, when present, PfHAD1 is doing the same job as the drug, slowing isoprenoid manufacturing. Since isoprenoids are necessary for life, it's not clear why the organism would purposefully slow down isoprenoid production.

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