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J Biol Chem. 2004 Dec 10;279(50):51749-59. Epub 2004 Sep 27.

The methylerythritol phosphate pathway is functionally active in all intraerythrocytic stages of Plasmodium falciparum.

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  • 1Department of Parasitology, Institute of Biomedical Sciences, University of São Paulo, 05508-900 São Paulo, Brazil.


Two genes encoding the enzymes 1-deoxy-D-xylulose-5-phosphate synthase and 1-deoxy-D-xylulose-5-phosphate reductoisomerase have been recently identified, suggesting that isoprenoid biosynthesis in Plasmodium falciparum depends on the methylerythritol phosphate (MEP) pathway, and that fosmidomycin could inhibit the activity of 1-deoxy-D-xylulose-5-phosphate reductoisomerase. The metabolite 1-deoxy-D-xylulose-5-phosphate is not only an intermediate of the MEP pathway for the biosynthesis of isopentenyl diphosphate but is also involved in the biosynthesis of thiamin (vitamin B1) and pyridoxal (vitamin B6) in plants and many microorganisms. Herein we report the first isolation and characterization of most downstream intermediates of the MEP pathway in the three intraerythrocytic stages of P. falciparum. These include, 1-deoxy-D-xylulose-5-phosphate, 2-C-methyl-D-erythritol-4-phosphate, 4-(cytidine-5-diphospho)-2-C-methyl-D-erythritol, 4-(cytidine-5-diphospho)-2-C-methyl-D-erythritol-2-phosphate, and 2-C-methyl-D-erythritol-2,4-cyclodiphosphate. These intermediates were purified by HPLC and structurally characterized via biochemical and electrospray mass spectrometric analyses. We have also investigated the effect of fosmidomycin on the biosynthesis of each intermediate of this pathway and isoprenoid biosynthesis (dolichols and ubiquinones). For the first time, therefore, it is demonstrated that the MEP pathway is functionally active in all intraerythrocytic forms of P. falciparum, and de novo biosynthesis of pyridoxal in a protozoan is reported. Its absence in the human host makes both pathways very attractive as potential new targets for antimalarial drug development.

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