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Antimicrob Agents Chemother. 2019 Feb 19. pii: AAC.00052-19. doi: 10.1128/AAC.00052-19. [Epub ahead of print]

Identification of antimalarial compounds that require CLAG3 for their uptake by P. falciparum-infected erythrocytes.

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Institute of Tropical Medicine, Antwerp, Belgium.
ISGlobal, Hospital Clínic - Universitat de Barcelona, Barcelona, Catalonia, Spain.
ISGlobal, Hospital Clínic - Universitat de Barcelona, Barcelona, Catalonia, Spain
ICREA, Barcelona, Catalonia, Spain.
Institute of Tropical Medicine, Antwerp, Belgium


During the intraerythrocytic asexual cycle malaria parasites acquire nutrients and other solutes through a broad selectivity channel localized at the membrane of the infected erythrocyte termed Plasmodial Surface Anion Channel (PSAC). The protein product of the Plasmodium falciparum clonally variant clag3.1 and clag3.2 genes determines PSAC activity. Switches in the expression of clag3 genes, which are regulated by epigenetic mechanisms, are associated with changes in PSAC-dependent permeability that can result in resistance to compounds toxic for the parasite such as blasticidin S. Here we investigated whether other antimalarial drugs require CLAG3 to reach their intracellular target and consequently are prone to parasite resistance by epigenetic mechanisms. We found that the bis-thiazolium salts T3 (also known as albitiazolium) and T16 require the product of clag3 genes to enter infected erythrocytes. P. falciparum populations can develop resistance to these compounds via selection of parasites with dramatically reduced expression of both genes. However, other compounds previously demonstrated or predicted to enter infected erythrocytes through transport pathways absent from non-infected erythrocytes, such as fosmidomycin, doxycycline, azithromycin, lumefantrine or pentamidine, do not require expression of clag3 genes for their anti-malarial activity. This suggests that they use alternative CLAG3-independent routes to access parasites. Our results demonstrate that P. falciparum can develop resistance to diverse antimalarial compounds by epigenetic changes in the expression of clag3 genes. This is of concern for drug development efforts because drug resistance by epigenetic mechanisms can arise quickly, even during the course of a single infection.


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