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PLoS One. 2019 Apr 9;14(4):e0214023. doi: 10.1371/journal.pone.0214023. eCollection 2019.

Mitochondrial type II NADH dehydrogenase of Plasmodium falciparum (PfNDH2) is dispensable in the asexual blood stages.

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Center for Molecular Parasitology, Department of Microbiology and Immunology, Drexel University College of Medicine, Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, United States of America.
Portland VA Medical Center, Portland, Oregon, United States of America.


The battle against malaria has been substantially impeded by the recurrence of drug resistance in Plasmodium falciparum, the deadliest human malaria parasite. To counter the problem, novel antimalarial drugs are urgently needed, especially those that target unique pathways of the parasite, since they are less likely to have side effects. The mitochondrial type II NADH dehydrogenase (NDH2) of P. falciparum, PfNDH2 (PF3D7_0915000), has been considered a good prospective antimalarial drug target for over a decade, since malaria parasites lack the conventional multi-subunit NADH dehydrogenase, or Complex I, present in the mammalian mitochondrial electron transport chain (mtETC). Instead, Plasmodium parasites contain a single subunit NDH2, which lacks proton pumping activity and is absent in humans. A significant amount of effort has been expended to develop PfNDH2 specific inhibitors, yet the essentiality of PfNDH2 has not been convincingly verified. Herein, we knocked out PfNDH2 in P. falciparum via a CRISPR/Cas9 mediated approach. Deletion of PfNDH2 does not alter the parasite's susceptibility to multiple mtETC inhibitors, including atovaquone and ELQ-300. We also show that the antimalarial activity of the fungal NDH2 inhibitor HDQ and its new derivative CK-2-68 is due to inhibition of the parasite cytochrome bc1 complex rather than PfNDH2. These compounds directly inhibit the ubiquinol-cytochrome c reductase activity of the malarial bc1 complex. Our results suggest that PfNDH2 is not likely a good antimalarial drug target.

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