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PLoS One. 2013;8(2):e54974. doi: 10.1371/journal.pone.0054974. Epub 2013 Feb 6.

Pantothenamides are potent, on-target inhibitors of Plasmodium falciparum growth when serum pantetheinase is inactivated.

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  • 1Research School of Biology, College of Medicine, Biology and Environment, The Australian National University, Canberra, Australian Capital Territory, Australia.


Growth of the virulent human malaria parasite Plasmodium falciparum is dependent on an extracellular supply of pantothenate (vitamin B(5)) and is susceptible to inhibition by pantothenate analogues that hinder pantothenate utilization. In this study, on the hunt for pantothenate analogues with increased potency relative to those reported previously, we screened a series of pantothenamides (amide analogues of pantothenate) against P. falciparum and show for the first time that analogues of this type possess antiplasmodial activity. Although the active pantothenamides in this series exhibit only modest potency under standard in vitro culture conditions, we show that the potency of pantothenamides is selectively enhanced when the parasite culture medium is pre-incubated at 37°C for a prolonged period. We present evidence that this finding is linked to the presence in Albumax II (a serum-substitute routinely used for in vitro cultivation of P. falciparum) of pantetheinase activity: the activity of an enzyme that hydrolyzes the pantothenate metabolite pantetheine, for which pantothenamides also serve as substrates. Pantetheinase activity, and thereby pantothenamide degradation, is reduced following incubation of Albumax II-containing culture medium for a prolonged period at 37°C, revealing the true, sub-micromolar potency of pantothenamides. Importantly we show that the potent antiplasmodial effect of pantothenamides is attenuated with pantothenate, consistent with the compounds inhibiting parasite proliferation specifically by inhibiting pantothenate and/or CoA utilization. Additionally, we show that the pantothenamides interact with P. falciparum pantothenate kinase, the first enzyme involved in converting pantothenate to coenzyme A. This is the first demonstration of on-target antiplasmodial pantothenate analogues with sub-micromolar potency, and highlights the potential of pantetheinase-resistant pantothenamides as antimalarial agents.

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