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Mol Microbiol. 1999 Jun;32(6):1254-62.

Utilization of exogenous folate in the human malaria parasite Plasmodium falciparum and its critical role in antifolate drug synergy.

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Department of Biomolecular Sciences, University of Manchester Institute of Science and Technology (UMIST), PO Box 88, Manchester M60 1QD, UK.


The antifolate combination pyrimethamine/sulphadoxine (PYR/SDX; Fansidar) is frequently used to combat chloroquine-resistant malaria. Its success depends upon pronounced synergy between the two components, which target dihydrofolate reductase (DHFR) and dihydropteroate synthetase (DHPS) in the folate pathway. This synergy permits clearance of parasites resistant to either drug alone, but its molecular basis is still unexplained. Plasmodium falciparum can use exogenous folate, which is normally present in vivo, bypassing SDX inhibition of DHPS and, apparently, precluding synergy under these conditions. However, we have measured parasite inhibition by SDX/PYR combinations in assays in which folate levels are strictly controlled. In parasites that use exogenous folate efficiently, SDX inhibition can be restored by levels of PYR significantly lower than those required to inhibit DHFR. Isobolograms show that the degree of synergy between PYR and SDX is highly dependent upon prevailing folate concentrations and are indicative of PYR acting to block folate uptake and/or utilization. No significant synergy was observed at physiological drug levels when PYR/SDX acted on purified DHFR, whether wild type or mutant. We conclude that the primary basis for antifolate synergy in these organisms arises from PYR targeting a site (or sites) in addition to DHFR, which restores DHPS as a relevant target for SDX.

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