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1.  High-resolution structures of Trypanosoma brucei pteridine reductase ligand complexes inform on the placement of new molecular entities in the active site of a potential drug target 
Pteridine reductase (PTR1) is a potential target for drug development against parasitic Trypanosoma and Leishmania species. These protozoa cause serious diseases for which current therapies are inadequate. High-resolution structures have been determined, using data between 1.6 and 1.1 Å resolution, of T. brucei PTR1 in complex with pemetrexed, trimetrexate, cyromazine and a 2,4-diaminopyrimidine derivative. The structures provide insight into the interactions formed by new molecular entities in the enzyme active site with ligands that represent lead compounds for structure-based inhibitor development and to support early-stage drug discovery.
PMCID: PMC3655514  PMID: 21123874
2.  Structure and reactivity of Trypanosoma brucei pteridine reductase: inhibition by the archetypal antifolate methotrexate 
Molecular Microbiology  2006;61(6):1457-1468.
The protozoan Trypanosoma brucei has a functional pteridine reductase (TbPTR1), an NADPH-dependent short-chain reductase that participates in the salvage of pterins, which are essential for parasite growth. PTR1 displays broad-spectrum activity with pterins and folates, provides a metabolic bypass for inhibition of the trypanosomatid dihydrofolate reductase and therefore compromises the use of antifolates for treatment of trypanosomiasis. Catalytic properties of recombinant TbPTR1 and inhibition by the archetypal antifolate methotrexate have been characterized and the crystal structure of the ternary complex with cofactor NADP+ and the inhibitor determined at 2.2 Å resolution. This enzyme shares 50% amino acid sequence identity with Leishmania major PTR1 (LmPTR1) and comparisons show that the architecture of the cofactor binding site, and the catalytic centre are highly conserved, as are most interactions with the inhibitor. However, specific amino acid differences, in particular the placement of Trp221 at the side of the active site, and adjustment of the β6-α6 loop and α6 helix at one side of the substrate-binding cleft significantly reduce the size of the substrate binding site of TbPTR1 and alter the chemical properties compared with LmPTR1. A reactive Cys168, within the active site cleft, in conjunction with the C-terminus carboxyl group and His267 of a partner subunit forms a triad similar to the catalytic component of cysteine proteases. TbPTR1 therefore offers novel structural features to exploit in the search for inhibitors of therapeutic value against African trypanosomiasis.
PMCID: PMC1618733  PMID: 16968221
3.  An orally effective dihydropyrimidone (DHPM) analogue induces apoptosis-like cell death in clinical isolates of Leishmania donovani overexpressing pteridine reductase 1 
Parasitology Research  2009;105(5):1317-1325.
The protozoan parasite Leishmania donovani is the causative agent of visceral leishmaniasis. The enzyme pteridine reductase 1 (PTR1) of L. donovani acts as a metabolic bypass for drugs targeting dihydrofolate reductase (DHFR); therefore, for successful antifolate chemotherapy to be developed against Leishmania, it must target both enzyme activities. Leishmania cells overexpressing PTR1 tagged at the N-terminal with green fluorescent protein were established to screen for proprietary dihydropyrimidone (DHPM) derivatives of DHFR specificity synthesised in our laboratory. A cell-permeable molecule with impressive antileishmanial in vitro and in vivo oral activity was identified. Structure activity relationship based on homology model drawn on our recombinant enzyme established the highly selective inhibition of the enzyme by this analogue. It was seen that the leishmanicidal effect of this analogue is triggered by programmed cell death mediated by the loss of plasma membrane integrity as detected by binding of annexin V and propidium iodide (PI), loss of mitochondrial membrane potential culminating in cell cycle arrest at the sub-G0/G1 phase and oligonucleosomal DNA fragmentation. Hence, this DHPM analogue [(4-fluoro-phenyl)-6-methyl-2-thioxo-1, 2, 3, 4-tetrahydropyrimidine-5-carboxylic acid ethyl ester] is a potent antileishmanial agent that merits further pharmacological investigation.
PMCID: PMC2745541  PMID: 19621245
4.  Design, Synthesis and Biological Evaluation of Novel Inhibitors of Trypanosoma brucei Pteridine Reductase 1 
Chemmedchem  2010;6(2):302-308.
Genetic studies indicate that the enzyme pteridine reductase 1 (PTR1) is essential for the survival of the protozoan parasite Trypanosoma brucei. Herein, we describe the development and optimisation of a novel series of PTR1 inhibitors, based on benzo[d]imidazol-2-amine derivatives. Data are reported on 33 compounds. This series was initially discovered by a virtual screening campaign (J. Med. Chem., 2009, 52, 4454). The inhibitors adopted an alternative binding mode to those of the natural ligands, biopterin and dihydrobiopterin, and classical inhibitors, such as methotrexate. Using both rational medicinal chemistry and structure-based approaches, we were able to derive compounds with potent activity against T. brucei PTR1 (=7 nm), which had high selectivity over both human and T. brucei dihydrofolate reductase. Unfortunately, these compounds displayed weak activity against the parasites. Kinetic studies and analysis indicate that the main reason for the lack of cell potency is due to the compounds having insufficient potency against the enzyme, which can be seen from the low Km to Ki ratio (Km=25 nm and Ki=2.3 nm, respectively).
PMCID: PMC3047710  PMID: 21275054
antiprotozoal agents; drug discovery; pteridine reductase; structure-based drug design; Trypanosoma brucei
5.  Development and validation of a cytochrome c-coupled assay for pteridine reductase 1 and dihydrofolate reductase 
Analytical Biochemistry  2010;396(2):194-203.
Activity of the pterin- and folate-salvaging enzymes pteridine reductase 1 (PTR1) and dihydrofolate reductase–thymidylate synthetase (DHFR-TS) is commonly measured as a decrease in absorbance at 340 nm, corresponding to oxidation of nicotinamide adenine dinucleotide phosphate (NADPH). Although this assay has been adequate to study the biology of these enzymes, it is not amenable to support any degree of routine inhibitor assessment because its restricted linearity is incompatible with enhanced throughput microtiter plate screening. In this article, we report the development and validation of a nonenzymatically coupled screening assay in which the product of the enzymatic reaction reduces cytochrome c, causing an increase in absorbance at 550 nm. We demonstrate this assay to be robust and accurate, and we describe its utility in supporting a structure-based design, small-molecule inhibitor campaign against Trypanosoma brucei PTR1 and DHFR-TS.
PMCID: PMC2789237  PMID: 19748480
Drug discovery; Screening; Pteridine reductase; Dihydrofolate reductase
6.  Structure of recombinant Leishmania donovani pteridine reductase reveals a disordered active site 
The structure of L. donovani pteridine reductase has been targeted to assist in a program of structure-based inhibitor research. Crystals that diffracted to 2.5 Å resolution were obtained and the structure has been solved. Unfortunately, the active site is disordered and this crystal form is unsuitable for use in characterizing enzyme–ligand interactions.
Pteridine reductase (PTR1) is a potential target for drug development against parasitic Trypanosoma and Leishmania species, protozoa that are responsible for a range of serious diseases found in tropical and subtropical parts of the world. As part of a structure-based approach to inhibitor development, specifically targeting Leishmania species, well ordered crystals of L. donovani PTR1 were sought to support the characterization of complexes formed with inhibitors. An efficient system for recombinant protein production was prepared and the enzyme was purified and crystallized in an orthorhombic form with ammonium sulfate as the precipitant. Diffraction data were measured to 2.5 Å resolution and the structure was solved by molecular replacement. However, a sulfate occupies a phosphate-binding site used by NADPH and occludes cofactor binding. The nicotinamide moiety is a critical component of the active site and without it this part of the structure is disordered. The crystal form obtained under these conditions is therefore unsuitable for the characterization of inhibitor complexes.
PMCID: PMC3079966  PMID: 21206018
antifolates; pteridine reductase; Leishmania; pterins; Trypanosoma
7.  Molecular Cloning, Expression and Enzymatic Assay of Pteridine Reductase 1 from Iranian Lizard Leishmania 
Iranian Biomedical Journal  2010;14(3):97-102.
Background: Currently, there are no effective vaccines against leishmaniasis, and treatment using pentavalent antimonial drugs is occasionally effective and often toxic for patients. The PTR1 enzyme, which causes antifolate drug resistance in Leishmania parasites encoded by gene pteridine reductase 1 (ptr1). Since Leishmania lacks pteridine and folate metabolism, it cannot synthesize the pteridine moiety from guanine triphosphate. Therefore, it must produce pteridine using PTR1, an essential part of the salvage pathway that reduces oxidized pteridines. Thus, PTR1 is a good drug-target candidate for anti-Leishmania chemotherapy. The aim of this study was the cloning, expression, and enzymatic assay of the ptr1 gene from Iranian lizard Leishmania as a model for further studies on Leishmania. Methods: Promastigote DNA was extracted from the Iranian lizard Leishmania, and the ptr1 gene was amplified using specific primers. The PCR product was cloned, transformed into Escherichia coli strain JM109, and expressed. The recombinant protein (PTR1 enzyme) was then purified and assayed. Results: ptr1 gene was successfully amplified and cloned into expression vector. Recombinant protein (PTR1 enzyme) was purified using affinity chromatography and confirmed by Western-blot and dot blot using anti-Leishmania major PTR1 antibody and anti-T7 tag monoclonal antibody, respectively. The enzymatic assay was confirmed as PTR1 witch performed using 6-biopterin as a substrate and nicotinamide adenine dinucleotide phosphate as a coenzyme. Conclusion: Iranian lizard Leishmania ptr1 was expressed and enzymatic assay was performed successfully.
PMCID: PMC3904060  PMID: 21079660
Pteridine reductase 1 (PTR1); Leishmania; Gene expression
8.  Chemical and genetic validation of dihydrofolate reductase–thymidylate synthase as a drug target in African trypanosomes 
Molecular Microbiology  2008;69(2):520-533.
The phenotypes of single- (SKO) and double-knockout (DKO) lines of dihydrofolate reductase–thymidylate synthase (DHFR–TS) of bloodstream Trypanosoma brucei were evaluated in vitro and in vivo. Growth of SKO in vitro is identical to wild-type (WT) cells, whereas DKO has an absolute requirement for thymidine. Removal of thymidine from the medium triggers growth arrest in S phase, associated with gross morphological changes, followed by cell death after 60 h. DKO is unable to infect mice, whereas the virulence of SKO is similar to WT. Normal growth and virulence could be restored by transfection of DKO with T. brucei DHFR–TS, but not with Escherichia coli TS. As pteridine reductase (PTR1) levels are unchanged in SKO and DKO cells, PTR1 is not able to compensate for loss of DHFR activity. Drugs such as raltitrexed or methotrexate with structural similarity to folic acid are up to 300-fold more potent inhibitors of WT cultured in a novel low-folate medium, unlike hydrophobic antifols such as trimetrexate or pyrimethamine. DKO trypanosomes show reduced sensitivity to these inhibitors ranging from twofold for trimetrexate to >10 000-fold for raltitrexed. These data demonstrate that DHFR–TS is essential for parasite survival and represents a promising target for drug discovery.
PMCID: PMC2610392  PMID: 18557814
9.  Folate metabolic pathways in Leishmania 
Essays in Biochemistry  2011;51:63-80.
Trypanosomatid parasitic protozoans of the genus Leishmania are autotrophic for both folate and unconjugated pteridines. Leishmania salvage these metabolites from their mammalian hosts and insect vectors through multiple transporters. Within the parasite, folates are reduced by a bifunctional DHFR (dihydrofolate reductase)-TS (thymidylate synthase) and by a novel PTR1 (pteridine reductase 1), which reduces both folates and unconjugated pteridines. PTR1 can act as a metabolic bypass of DHFR inhibition, reducing the effectiveness of existing antifolate drugs. Leishmania possess a reduced set of folate-dependent metabolic reactions and can salvage many of the key products of folate metabolism from their hosts. For example, they lack purine synthesis, which normally requires 10-formyltetrahydrofolate, and instead rely on a network of purine salvage enzymes. Leishmania elaborate at least three pathways for the synthesis of the key metabolite 5,10-methylene-tetrahydrofolate, required for the synthesis of thymidylate, and for 10-formyltetrahydrofolate, whose presumptive function is for methionyl-tRNAMet formylation required for mitochondrial protein synthesis. Genetic studies have shown that the synthesis of methionine using 5-methyltetrahydrofolate is dispensable, as is the activity of the glycine cleavage complex, probably due to redundancy with serine hydroxymethyltransferase. Although not always essential, the loss of several folate metabolic enzymes results in attenuation or loss of virulence in animal models, and a null DHFR-TS mutant has been used to induce protective immunity. The folate metabolic pathway provides numerous opportunities for targeted chemotherapy, with strong potential for ‘repurposing’ of compounds developed originally for treatment of human cancers or other infectious agents.
PMCID: PMC3278214  PMID: 22023442
10.  Trypanosoma brucei pteridine reductase 1 is essential for survival in vitro and for virulence in mice 
Molecular Microbiology  2010;77(3):658-671.
Gene knockout and knockdown methods were used to examine essentiality of pteridine reductase (PTR1) in pterin metabolism in the African trypanosome. Attempts to generate PTR1 null mutants in bloodstream form Trypanosoma brucei proved unsuccessful; despite integration of drug selectable markers at the target locus, the gene for PTR1 was either retained at the same locus or elsewhere in the genome. However, RNA interference (RNAi) resulted in complete knockdown of endogenous protein after 48 h, followed by cell death after 4 days. This lethal phenotype was reversed by expression of enzymatically active Leishmania major PTR1 in RNAi lines (oeRNAi) or by addition of tetrahydrobiopterin to cultures. Loss of PTR1 was associated with gross morphological changes due to a defect in cytokinesis, resulting in cells with multiple nuclei and kinetoplasts, as well as multiple detached flagella. Electron microscopy also revealed increased numbers of glycosomes, while immunofluorescence microscopy showed increased and more diffuse staining for glycosomal matrix enzymes, indicative of mis-localisation to the cytosol. Mis-localisation was confirmed by digitonin fractionation experiments. RNAi cell lines were markedly less virulent than wild-type parasites in mice and virulence was restored in the oeRNAi line. Thus, PTR1 may be a drug target for human African trypanosomiasis.
PMCID: PMC2916222  PMID: 20545846
11.  Role of the locus and of the resistance gene on gene amplification frequency in methotrexate resistant Leishmania tarentolae. 
Nucleic Acids Research  1999;27(18):3653-3659.
The protozoan parasite Leishmania resists the antifolate methotrexate (MTX) by amplifying the R locus dihydrofolate reductase-thymidylate synthase ( dhfr-ts ) gene, the H locus ptr1 pterin reductase gene, and finally by mutation in a common folate/MTX transporter. Amplification of dhfr-ts has never been observed in Leishmania tarentolae MTX resistant mutants while ptr1 amplification is common. We have selected a L.tarentolae ptr1 null mutant for MTX resistance and observed dhfr-ts amplification in this mutant demonstrating that once a preferred resistance mechanism is unavailable, a second one will take over. By introducing the ptr1 gene at the R locus and the dhfr-ts gene at the H locus by gene targeting, we investigated the role of the resistance gene and the locus on the rate of gene amplification. Transfection studies indicated that ptr1 gave higher levels of MTX resistance than dhfr-ts. Consistent with this, when ptr1 was present as part of either the H locus or the R locus it was invariably amplified, while dhfr-ts was only amplified when ptr1 was inactivated. When dhfr-ts was present in a ptr1 null background on both the H locus and the R locus, amplification from the H locus was more frequent suggesting that both the gene and the locus are determining the frequency of gene amplification in Leishmania.
PMCID: PMC148619  PMID: 10471733
12.  In Silico Screening, Structure-Activity Relationship, and Biologic Evaluation of Selective Pteridine Reductase Inhibitors Targeting Visceral Leishmaniasis▿ †  
In this study we utilized the concept of rational drug design to identify novel compounds with optimal selectivity, efficacy and safety, which would bind to the target enzyme pteridine reductase 1 (PTR1) in Leishmania parasites. Twelve compounds afforded from Baylis-Hillman chemistry were docked by using the QUANTUM program into the active site of Leishmania donovani PTR1 homology model. The biological activity for these compounds was estimated in green fluorescent protein-transfected L. donovani promastigotes, and the most potential analogue was further investigated in intracellular amastigotes. Structure-activity relationship based on homology model drawn on our recombinant enzyme was substantiated by recombinant enzyme inhibition assay and growth of the cell culture. Flow cytometry results indicated that 7-(4-chlorobenzyl)-3-methyl-4-(4-trifluoromethyl-phenyl)-3,4,6,7,8,9-hexahydro-pyrimido[1,2-a]pyrimidin-2-one (compound 7) was 10 times more active on L. donovani amastigotes (50% inhibitory concentration [IC50] = 3 μM) than on promastigotes (IC50 = 29 μM). Compound 7 exhibited a Ki value of 0.72 μM in a recombinant enzyme inhibition assay. We discovered that novel pyrimido[1,2-a]pyrimidin-2-one systems generated from the allyl amines afforded from the Baylis-Hillman acetates could have potential as a valuable pharmacological tool against the neglected disease visceral leishmaniasis.
PMCID: PMC3028761  PMID: 21115787
13.  PTR1-dependent synthesis of tetrahydrobiopterin contributes to oxidant susceptibility in the trypanosomatid protozoan parasite Leishmania major 
Current genetics  2009;55(3):287-299.
Leishmania must survive oxidative stress, but lack many classical antioxidant enzymes and rely heavily on trypanothione-dependent pathways. We used forward genetic screens to recover loci mediating oxidant resistance via overexpression in Leishmania major, which identified pteridine reductase 1 (PTR1). Comparisons of isogenic lines showed ptr1- null mutants were 18-fold more sensitive to H2O2 than PTR1-overproducing lines, and significant 3-5 fold differences were seen with a broad panel of oxidant-inducing agents. The toxicities of simple nitric oxide generators and other drug classes (except antifolates) were unaffected by PTR1 levels. H2O2 susceptibility could be modulated by exogenous biopterin but not folate, in a PTR1-but not dihydrofolate reductase-dependent manner, implicating H4B metabolism specifically. Neither H2O2 consumption, nor the level of intracellular oxidative stress, was affected by PTR1 levels. Coupled with the fact that reduced pteridines are at least 100-fold less abundant than cellular thiols), these data argue strongly that reduced pteridines act through a mechanism other than scavenging. The ability of unconjugated pteridines to counter oxidative stress has implications to infectivity and response to chemotherapy. Since the intracellular pteridine levels of Leishmania can be readily manipulated, these organisms offer a powerful setting for the dissection of pteridine-dependent oxidant susceptibility in higher eukaryotes.
PMCID: PMC2759280  PMID: 19396443
14.  Inhibition of Leishmania major PTR1 Gene Expression by Antisense in Escherichia coli 
Protozoa related to Trypanosome family including Leishmania, synthesize enzymes to escape from drug therapy. One of them is PTR1 that its enzymatic activity is similar to dihydrofolate reductase (DHFR). Dihydrofolate reductase - thymidylate synthase has a major role in DNA synthesis, if it is inhibited, the result would be the death of parasite. Since PTR1 activity is similar to DHFR, causes the decrease of inhibition effect of drug. The aim of this study was inhibition of Iranian L. major PTR1 expression with mRNA antisense in prokaryotic system as an approach to appear of the drugs therapeutic effects more.
PTR1 gene was ligated to pACYCDuet-1 and pcDNA3 plasmids as sense and antisense plasmids, respectively. Simultaneously transfer of sense and antisense plasmids was done in E. coli strain M15. SDS-PAGE and western blot analysis were carried out to analyze the expression.
Sense and antisense plasmids were prepared and confirmed by restriction analysis and PCR then simultaneously transfer of them was done. SDS-PAGE and western blot analysis showed PTR1 gene was inhibited by mRNA antisense in bacterial cells.
Expression of PTR1 gene in sense plasmid was inhibited successfully by antisense plasmid.
PMCID: PMC3468993  PMID: 23113195
PTR1; Leishmania major; Antisense plasmid; Dihydrofolate reductase; Expression
15.  Dissecting the Metabolic Roles of Pteridine Reductase 1 in Trypanosoma brucei and Leishmania major* 
The Journal of Biological Chemistry  2011;286(12):10429-10438.
Leishmania parasites are pteridine auxotrophs that use an NADPH-dependent pteridine reductase 1 (PTR1) and NADH-dependent quinonoid dihydropteridine reductase (QDPR) to salvage and maintain intracellular pools of tetrahydrobiopterin (H4B). However, the African trypanosome lacks a credible candidate QDPR in its genome despite maintaining apparent QDPR activity. Here we provide evidence that the NADH-dependent activity previously reported by others is an assay artifact. Using an HPLC-based enzyme assay, we demonstrate that there is an NADPH-dependent QDPR activity associated with both TbPTR1 and LmPTR1. The kinetic properties of recombinant PTR1s are reported at physiological pH and ionic strength and compared with LmQDPR. Specificity constants (kcat/Km) for LmPTR1 are similar with dihydrobiopterin (H2B) and quinonoid dihydrobiopterin (qH2B) as substrates and about 20-fold lower than LmQDPR with qH2B. In contrast, TbPTR1 shows a 10-fold higher kcat/Km for H2B over qH2B. Analysis of Trypanosoma brucei isolated from infected rats revealed that H4B (430 nm, 98% of total biopterin) was the predominant intracellular pterin, consistent with a dual role in the salvage and regeneration of H4B. Gene knock-out experiments confirmed this: PTR1-nulls could only be obtained from lines overexpressing LmQDPR with H4B as a medium supplement. These cells grew normally with H4B, which spontaneously oxidizes to qH2B, but were unable to survive in the absence of pterin or with either biopterin or H2B in the medium. These findings establish that PTR1 has an essential and dual role in pterin metabolism in African trypanosomes and underline its potential as a drug target.
PMCID: PMC3060496  PMID: 21239486
Enzyme Kinetics; Gene Knockout; Parasite Metabolism; Pterin; Trypanosome; Biopterin; Leishmania; Pteridine Reductase; Quinonoid Pteridine Reductase; Substrate Inhibition
16.  Modulation of gene expression in Leishmania drug resistant mutants as determined by targeted DNA microarrays 
Nucleic Acids Research  2003;31(20):5886-5896.
In the protozoan parasite Leishmania, drug resistance can be a complex phenomenon. Several metabolic pathways and membrane transporters are implicated in the resistance phenotype. To monitor the expression of these genes, we generated custom DNA microarrays with PCR fragments corresponding to 44 genes involved with drug resistance. Transcript profiling of arsenite and antimony resistant mutants with these arrays pinpointed a number of genes overexpressed in mutants, including the ABC transporter PGPA, the glutathione biosynthesis genes γ-glutamylcysteine synthetase (GSH1) and the glutathione synthetase (GSH2). Competitive hybridisations with total RNA derived from sensitive and methotrexate resistant cells revealed the overexpression of genes coding for dihydrofolate reductase (DHFR-TS), pteridine reductase (PTR1) and S-adenosylmethionine synthase (MAT2) and a down regulation of one gene of the folate transporter (FT) family. By labelling the DNA of sensitive and resistant parasites we could also detect several gene amplification events using DNA microarrays including the amplification of the S-adenosyl homocysteine hydrolase gene (SAHH). Alteration in gene expression detected by microarrays was validated by northern blot analysis, while Southern blots indicated that most genes overexpressed were also amplified, although other mechanisms were also present. The microarrays were useful in the study of resistant parasites to pinpoint several genes linked to drug resistance.
PMCID: PMC219483  PMID: 14530437
17.  One Scaffold, Three Binding Modes: Novel and Selective Pteridine Reductase 1 Inhibitors Derived from Fragment Hits Discovered by Virtual Screening† 
Journal of Medicinal Chemistry  2009;52(14):4454-4465.
The enzyme pteridine reductase 1 (PTR1) is a potential target for new compounds to treat human African trypanosomiasis. A virtual screening campaign for fragments inhibiting PTR1 was carried out. Two novel chemical series were identified containing aminobenzothiazole and aminobenzimidazole scaffolds, respectively. One of the hits (2-amino-6-chloro-benzimidazole) was subjected to crystal structure analysis and a high resolution crystal structure in complex with PTR1 was obtained, confirming the predicted binding mode. However, the crystal structures of two analogues (2-amino-benzimidazole and 1-(3,4-dichloro-benzyl)-2-amino-benzimidazole) in complex with PTR1 revealed two alternative binding modes. In these complexes, previously unobserved protein movements and water-mediated protein−ligand contacts occurred, which prohibited a correct prediction of the binding modes. On the basis of the alternative binding mode of 1-(3,4-dichloro-benzyl)-2-amino-benzimidazole, derivatives were designed and selective PTR1 inhibitors with low nanomolar potency and favorable physicochemical properties were obtained.
PMCID: PMC2966039  PMID: 19527033
18.  2,4-Diaminopteridine-Based Compounds as Precursors for De Novo Synthesis of Antifolates: a Novel Class of Antimalarials 
We have tested the hypothesis that 2,4-diamino-6-hydroxymethyl-pteridine (DAP), 2,4-diaminopteroic acid (DAPA), and 2,4 diamino-N10-methyl-pteroic acid (DAMPA) could be converted into aminopterin (from DAP and DAPA) and methotrexate (from DAMPA), both of which are potent inhibitors of dihydrofolate reductase, a proven drug target for Plasmodium falciparum. DAP, DAPA, and DAMPA inhibited parasite growth in the micromolar range; DAMPA was the most active, with 50% inhibitory concentrations in vitro of 446 ng/ml against the antifolate-sensitive strain and 812 ng/ml against the highly resistant strain under physiological folate conditions. DAMPA potentiates the activity of the sulfone dapsone, an inhibitor of dihydropteroate synthase, but not that of chlorcycloguanil, a known inhibitor of dihydrofolate reductase (DHFR). Experiments with a Saccharomyces cerevisiae strain dependent upon the P. falciparum DHFR enzyme showed that DHFR is a target of DAMPA in that system. We hypothesize that DAMPA is converted to methotrexate by the parasite dihydrofolate synthase, which explains the synergy of DAMPA with dapsone but not with chlorcycloguanil. This de novo synthesis will not occur in the host, since it lacks the complete folate pathway. If this hypothesis holds true, the de novo synthesis of the toxic compounds could be used as a framework for the search for novel potent antimalarial antifolates.
PMCID: PMC1195384  PMID: 16127035
19.  Lipophilic Antifolate Trimetrexate Is a Potent Inhibitor of Trypanosoma cruzi: Prospect for Chemotherapy of Chagas' Disease 
Trypanosoma cruzi, a protozoan parasite, is the causative agent for Chagas' disease, which poses serious public health problem in Latin America. The two drugs available for the treatment of this disease are effective only against recent infections and are toxic. Dihydrofolate reductase (DHFR) has a proven track record as a drug target. The lipophilic antifolate trimetrexate (TMQ), which is an FDA-approved drug for the treatment of Pneumocystis carinii infection in AIDS patients, is a potent inhibitor of T. cruzi DHFR activity, with an inhibitory constant of 6.6 nM. The compound is also highly effective in killing T. cruzi parasites. The 50 and 90% lethal dose values against the trypomastigote are 19 and 36 nM, and the corresponding values for the amastigote form are 26 and 72 nM, respectively. However, as TMQ is also a good inhibitor of human DHFR, further improvement of the selectivity of this drug would be preferable. Identification of a novel antifolate selective against T. cruzi would open up new therapeutic avenues for treatment of Chagas' disease.
PMCID: PMC1196212  PMID: 16048931
20.  Prospective Screening of Novel Antibacterial Inhibitors of Dihydrofolate Reductase for Mutational Resistance 
Resistance to trimethoprim (TMP) resulting from point mutations in the enzyme drug target dihydrofolate reductase (DHFR) drives the development of new antifolate inhibitors effective against methicillin-resistant Staphlococcus aureus (MRSA). For the past several years we have used structure-based design to create propargyl-linked antifolates that are highly potent antibacterial agents. In order to focus priority on the development of lead compounds with a low propensity to induce resistance, we prospectively evaluated resistance profiles for two of these inhibitors in an MRSA strain. By selection with the lead inhibitors, we generated resistant strains that contain single point mutations F98Y and H30N associated with TMP resistance and one novel mutation, F98I, in DHFR. Encouragingly, the pyridyl propargyl-linked inhibitor selects mutants at low frequency (6.85 × 10−10 to 1.65 × 10−9) and maintains a low MIC (2.5 μg/ml) and a low mutant prevention concentration (1.25 μg/ml), strongly supporting its position as a lead compound. Results from this prospective screening method inform the continued design of antifolates effective against mutations at the Phe 98 position. Furthermore, the method can be used broadly to incorporate ideas for overcoming resistance early in the development process.
PMCID: PMC3393473  PMID: 22491688
21.  Two crystal structures of dihydrofolate reductase-thymidylate synthase from Cryptosporidium hominis reveal protein–ligand interactions including a structural basis for observed antifolate resistance 
An analysis of the protein–ligand interactions in two crystal structures of DHFR-TS from C. hominis reveals a possible structural basis for observed antifolate resistance in C. hominis DHFR. A comparison with the structure of human DHFR reveals residue substitutions that may be exploited for the design of species-selective inhibitors.
Cryptosporidium hominis is a protozoan parasite that causes acute gastrointestinal illness. There are no effective therapies for cryptosporidiosis, highlighting the need for new drug-lead discovery. An analysis of the protein–ligand interactions in two crystal structures of dihydrofolate reductase-thymidylate synthase (DHFR-TS) from C. hominis, determined at 2.8 and 2.87 Å resolution, reveals that the interactions of residues Ile29, Thr58 and Cys113 in the active site of C. hominis DHFR provide a possible structural basis for the observed antifolate resistance. A comparison with the structure of human DHFR reveals active-site differences that may be exploited for the design of species-selective inhibitors.
PMCID: PMC1952288  PMID: 16511011
dihydrofolate reductase-thymidylate synthase; structure-based drug design; cryptosporidiosis; antifolate resistance
22.  Genetic Polymorphisms and Drug Susceptibility in Four Isolates of Leishmania tropica Obtained from Canadian Soldiers Returning from Afghanistan 
Cutaneous leishmaniasis (CL) is a vector-borne parasitic disease characterized by the presence of one or more lesions on the skin that usually heal spontaneously after a few months. Most cases of CL worldwide occur in Southwest Asia, Africa and South America, and a number of cases have been reported among troops deployed to Afghanistan. No vaccines are available against this disease, and its treatment relies on chemotherapy. The aim of this study was to characterize parasites isolated from Canadian soldiers at the molecular level and to determine their susceptibility profile against a panel of antileishmanials to identify appropriate therapies.
Methodology/Principal Findings
Parasites were isolated from skin lesions and characterized as Leishmania tropica based on their pulsed field gel electrophoresis profiles and pteridine reductase 1 (PTR1) sequences. Unusually high allelic polymorphisms were observed at several genetic loci for the L. tropica isolates that were characterized. The drug susceptibility profile of intracellular amastigote parasites was determined using an established macrophage assay. All isolates were sensitive to miltefosine, amphotericin B, sodium stibogluconate (Pentostam) and paromomycin, but were not susceptible to fluconazole. Variable levels of susceptibility were observed for the antimalarial agent atovaquone/proguanil (Malarone). Three Canadian soldiers from this study were successfully treated with miltefosine.
This study shows high heterogeneity between the two L. tropica allelic versions of a gene but despite this, L. tropica isolated from Afghanistan are susceptible to several of the antileishmanial drugs available.
Author Summary
Cutaneous leishmaniasis (CL) is a vector-borne parasitic disease transmitted by the bite of sandflies, resulting in sores on the skin. No vaccines are available, and treatment relies on chemotherapy. CL has been frequently diagnosed in military personnel deployed to Afghanistan and returning from duty. The parasites isolated from Canadian soldiers were characterized by pulsed field gels and by sequencing conserved genes and were identified as Leishmania tropica. In contrast to other Leishmania species, high allelic polymorphisms were observed at several genetic loci for the L. tropica isolates that were characterized. In vitro susceptibility testing in macrophages showed that all isolates, despite their genetic heterogeneity, were sensitive to most antileishmanial drugs (antimonials, miltefosine, amphotericin B, paromomycin) but were insensitive to fluconazole. This study suggests a number of therapeutic regimens for treating cutaneous leishmaniasis caused by L. tropica among patients and soldiers returning from Afghanistan. Canadian soldiers from this study were successfully treated with miltefosine.
PMCID: PMC3260320  PMID: 22272366
23.  Towards New Antifolates Targeting Eukaryotic Opportunistic Infections▿  
Eukaryotic Cell  2009;8(4):483-486.
Trimethoprim, an antifolate commonly prescribed in combination with sulfamethoxazole, potently inhibits several prokaryotic species of dihydrofolate reductase (DHFR). However, several eukaryotic pathogenic organisms are resistant to trimethoprim, preventing its effective use as a therapeutic for those infections. We have been building a program to reengineer trimethoprim to more potently and selectively inhibit eukaryotic species of DHFR as a viable strategy for new drug discovery targeting several opportunistic pathogens. We have developed a series of compounds that exhibit potent and selective inhibition of DHFR from the parasitic protozoa Cryptosporidium and Toxoplasma as well as the fungus Candida glabrata. A comparison of the structures of DHFR from the fungal species Candida glabrata and Pneumocystis suggests that the compounds may also potently inhibit Pneumocystis DHFR.
PMCID: PMC2669212  PMID: 19168759
24.  X-ray structure of the ternary MTX•NADPH complex of the anthrax dihydrofolate reductase: a pharmacophore for dual-site inhibitor design 
Journal of structural biology  2009;166(2):162-171.
For reasons of bioterrorism and drug resistance, it is imperative to identify and develop new molecular points of intervention against anthrax. Dihydrofolate reductase (DHFR) is a highly conserved enzyme and an established target in a number of species for a variety of chemotherapeutic programs. Recently, the crystal structure of B. anthracis DHFR (baDHFR) in complex with methotrexate (MTX) was determined and, based on the structure, proposals were made for drug design strategies directed against the substrate binding site. However, little is gleaned about the binding site for NADPH, the cofactor responsible for hydride transfer in the catalytic mechanism. In the present study, X-ray crystallography at 100 K was used to determine the structure of baDHFR in complex with MTX and NADPH. Although the NADPH binding mode is nearly identical to that seen in other DHFR ternary complex structures, the adenine moiety adopts an off-plane tilt of nearly 90° and this orientation is stabilized by hydrogen bonds to functionally conserved Arg residues. A comparison of the binding site, focusing on this region, between baDHFR and the human enzyme is discussed, with an aim at designing species-selective therapeutics. Indeed, the ternary model, refined to 2.3Å resolution, provides an accurate template for testing the feasibility of identifying dual-site inhibitors, compounds that target both the substrate and cofactor binding site. With the ternary model in hand, using in silico methods, several compounds were identified which could potentially form key bonding contacts in the substrate and cofactor binding sites. Ultimately, two structurally distinct compounds were verified that inhibit baDHFR at low μM concentrations. The apparent Kd for one of these, (2-(3-(2-(hydroxyimino)-2-(pyridine-4-yl)-6,7-dimethylquinoxalin-2-yl)-1-(pyridine-4-yl)ethanone oxime), was measured by fluorescence spectroscopy to be 5.3 μM.
PMCID: PMC2738603  PMID: 19374017
Anthrax; X-ray crystallography; nucleotide biosynthesis; dual-site inhibition; antifolate; structure-based drug design; cryocrystallography
25.  The crystal structure of Candida glabrata dihydrofolate reductase drives new inhibitor design toward efficacious antifungal agents 
Chemistry & biology  2008;15(9):990-996.
Candida glabrata is a lethal fungal pathogen resistant to many antifungal agents and has emerged as a critical target for drug discovery. Over the past several years we have been developing a class of propargyl-linked antifolates as new antimicrobials and hypothesized that these compounds could be effective inhibitors of dihydrofolate reductase (DHFR) from C. glabrata. We initially screened a small collection of these inhibitors and found modest levels of potency. Subsequently, we determined the crystal structure of C. glabrata DHFR bound to a representative inhibitor with data to 1.6 Å resolution. Using this structure, we designed and synthesized second generation inhibitors. These new inhibitors bind the C. glabrata DHFR enzyme with subnanomolar potency, display greater than 2,000-fold levels of selectivity over the human enzyme and inhibit the growth of C. glabrata at levels observed with clinically employed antifungal therapeutics.
PMCID: PMC2610858  PMID: 18804036

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