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J Clin Invest. 1988 Nov;82(5):1560-6.

A malarial cysteine proteinase is necessary for hemoglobin degradation by Plasmodium falciparum.

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Department of Medicine, San Francisco General Hospital, California 94110.


To obtain free amino acids for protein synthesis, trophozoite stage malaria parasites feed on the cytoplasm of host erythrocytes and degrade hemoglobin within an acid food vacuole. The food vacuole appears to be analogous to the secondary lysosomes of mammalian cells. To determine the enzymatic mechanism of hemoglobin degradation, we incubated trophozoite-infected erythrocytes with peptide inhibitors of different classes of proteinases. Leupeptin and L-transepoxy-succinyl-leucyl-amido-(4-guanidino)-butane (E-64), two peptide inhibitors of cysteine proteinases, inhibited the proteolysis of globin and caused the accumulation of undegraded erythrocyte cytoplasm in parasite food vacuoles, suggesting that a food vacuole cysteine proteinase is necessary for hemoglobin degradation. Proteinase assays of trophozoites demonstrated cysteine proteinase activity with a pH optimum similar to that of the food vacuole and the substrate specificity of lysosomal cathepsin L. We also identified an Mr 28,000 proteinase that was trophozoite stage-specific and was inhibited by leupeptin and E-64. We conclude that the Mr 28,000 cysteine proteinase has a critical, perhaps rate-limiting, role in hemoglobin degradation within the food vacuole of Plasmodium falciparum. Specific inhibitors of this enzyme might provide new means of antimalarial chemotherapy.

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