In most organisms 10-formyl-tetrahydrofolate (10-CHO-THF) participates in the synthesis of purines in the cytosol and formylation of mitochondrial initiator methionyl-tRNAMet. Here we studied 10-CHO-THF biosynthesis in the protozoan parasite Leishmania major, a purine auxotroph. Two distinct synthetic enzymes are known, a bifunctional methylene-tetrahydrofolate dehydrogenase/cyclohydrolase (DHCH) or formyl-tetrahydrofolate ligase (FTL), and phylogenomic profiling revealed considerable diversity for these in trypanosomatids. All species surveyed contain a DHCH1, which was shown recently to be essential in L. major. A second DHCH2 occurred only in L. infantum, L. mexicana and T. cruzi, and as a pseudogene in L. major. DHCH2s bear N-terminal extensions and we showed a LiDHCH2-GFP fusion was targeted to the mitochondrion. FTLs were found in all species except Trypanosoma brucei. L. major ftl− null mutants were phenotypically normal in growth, differentiation, animal infectivity and sensitivity to a panel of pteridine analogs, but grew more slowly when starved for serine or glycine, as expected for amino acids that are substrates in C1-folate metabolism. Cell fractionation and western blotting showed that both L. major DHCH1 and FTL were localized to the cytosol and not the mitochondrion. These localization data predict that in L. major cytosolic 10-formyl-tetrahydrofolate must be transported into the mitochondrion to support methionyl-tRNAMet formylation. The retention in all the trypanosomatids of at least one enzyme involved in 10-formyl-tetrahydrofolate biosynthesis, and the essentiality of this metabolite in L. major, suggests that this pathway represents a promising new area for chemotherapeutic attack in these parasites.
10-formyl tetrahydrofolate is a key metabolite in C1 carbon metabolism, arising through the action of formate-tetrahydrofolate ligase (FTL) and/or 5,10-methenyltetrahydrofolate cyclohydrolase/5,10-methylene tetrahydrofolate dehydrogenase (DHCH). Leishmania major possesses single DHCH1 and FTL genes encoding exclusively cytosolic proteins, unlike other organisms where isoforms occur in the mitochondrion as well. Recombinant DHCH1 showed typical NADP+-dependent methylene tetrahydrofolate DH and 5,10-methenyltetrahydrofolate CH activities, and the DH activity was potently inhibited by a substrate analog 5,10-CO-THF (Ki 105 nM), as was Leishmania growth (EC50 1.1 μM). Previous studies showed null ftl− mutants were normal, raising the possibility that loss of the purine synthetic pathway had rendered 10-CHO-THF dispensable in evolution. We were unable to generate dhch1− null mutants by gene replacement, despite using a wide spectrum of nutritional supplements expected to bypass DHCH function. We applied an improved method for testing essential genes in Leishmania, based upon segregational loss of episomal complementing genes rather than transfection; analysis of ~1400 events without successful loss of DHCH1 again established its requirement. Lastly, we employed ‘genetic metabolite complementation’ using ectopically expressed FTL as an alternative source of 10-CHO-THF; now dhch1− null parasites were readily obtained. These data establish a requirement for 10-CHO tetrahydrofolate metabolism in L. major, and provide genetic and pharmacological validation of DHCH as a target for chemotherapy, in this and potentially other protozoan parasites.
trypanosomatid protozoa; C1-THF metabolism; 1 carbon transfer; chemotherapy; formyl methionyl-tRNA
The bifunctional N5,N10-methylenetetrahydrofolate dehydrogenase/cyclohydrolase (DHCH or FolD), which is widely distributed in prokaryotes and eukaryotes, is involved in the biosynthesis of folate cofactors that are essential for growth and cellular development. The enzyme activities represent a potential antimicrobial drug target. We have characterized the kinetic properties of FolD from the Gram-negative pathogen Acinetobacter baumanni and determined high-resolution crystal structures of complexes with a cofactor and two potent inhibitors. The data reveal new details with respect to the molecular basis of catalysis and potent inhibition. A unexpected finding was that our crystallographic data revealed a different structure for LY374571 (an inhibitor studied as an antifolate) than that previously published. The implications of this observation are discussed.
antifolate; cyclohydrolase; dehydrogenase; enzyme inhibition; X-ray structure
The bifunctional enzyme methylenetetrahydrofolate dehydrogenase – cyclohydrolase (FolD) is identified as a potential drug target in Gram-negative bacteria, in particular the troublesome Pseudomonas aeruginosa. In order to provide a comprehensive and realistic assessment of the potential of this target for drug discovery we generated a highly efficient recombinant protein production system and purification protocol, characterized the enzyme, carried out screening of two commercial compound libraries by differential scanning fluorimetry, developed a high-throughput enzyme assay and prosecuted a screening campaign against almost 80,000 compounds. The crystal structure of P. aeruginosa FolD was determined at 2.2 Å resolution and provided a template for an assessment of druggability and for modelling of ligand complexes as well as for comparisons with the human enzyme. New FolD inhibitors were identified and characterized but the weak levels of enzyme inhibition suggest that these compounds are not optimal starting points for future development. Furthermore, the close similarity of the bacterial and human enzyme structures suggest that selective inhibition might be difficult to attain. In conclusion, although the preliminary biological data indicates that FolD represents a valuable target for the development of new antibacterial drugs, indeed spurred us to investigate it, our screening results and structural data suggest that this would be a difficult enzyme to target with respect to developing the appropriate lead molecules required to underpin a serious drug discovery effort.
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.
Genetic variants in MTHFD1 (5,10-methylenetetrahydrofolate dehydrogenase/ 5,10-methenyltetrahydrofolate cyclohydrolase/ 10-formyltetrahydrofolate synthetase), an important folate metabolic enzyme, are associated with a number of common diseases, including neural tube defects (NTDs). This study investigates the promoter of the human MTHFD1 gene in a bid to understand how this gene is controlled and regulated. Following a combination of in silico and molecular approaches, we report that MTHFD1 expression is controlled by a TATA-less, Initiator-less promoter and transcription is initiated at multiple start sites over a 126bp region. We confirmed the presence of three database polymorphisms (dbSNP) by direct sequencing of the upstream region (rs1076991 C>T, rs8010584 G>A, rs4243628 G>T), with a fourth (dbSNP rs746488 A>T) not found to be polymorphic in our population and no novel polymorphisms identified. We demonstrate that a common SNP rs1076991 C>T within the window of transcriptional initiation exerts a significant effect on promoter activity in vitro. We investigated this SNP as a potential risk factor for NTDs in a large homogenous Irish population and determined that it is not an independent risk factor, but, it does increase both case (χ2 = 11.06, P = 0.001) and maternal (χ2 = 6.68, P = 0.01) risk when allele frequencies were analysed in combination with the previously identified disease-associated p.R653Q (c.1958 G>A; dbSNP rs2236225) polymorphism. These results provide the first insight into how MTHFD1 is regulated and further emphasise its importance during embryonic development.
MTHFD1; NTD; Functional; SNP; R653Q; Promoter
Target repurposing utilizes knowledge of “druggable” targets obtained in one organism and exploits this information to pursue new potential drug targets in other organisms. Here we describe such studies to evaluate whether inhibitors targeting the kinase domain of the mammalian Target of Rapamycin (mTOR) and human phosphoinositide-3-kinases (PI3Ks) show promise against the kinetoplastid parasites Trypanosoma brucei, T. cruzi, Leishmania major, and L. donovani. The genomes of trypanosomatids encode at least 12 proteins belonging to the PI3K protein superfamily, some of which are unique to parasites. Moreover, the shared PI3Ks differ greatly in sequence from those of the human host, thereby providing opportunities for selective inhibition.
We focused on 8 inhibitors targeting mTOR and/or PI3Ks selected from various stages of pre-clinical and clinical development, and tested them against in vitro parasite cultures and in vivo models of infection. Several inhibitors showed micromolar or better efficacy against these organisms in culture. One compound, NVP-BEZ235, displayed sub-nanomolar potency, efficacy against cultured parasites, and an ability to clear parasitemia in an animal model of T. brucei rhodesiense infection.
These studies strongly suggest that mammalian PI3/TOR kinase inhibitors are a productive starting point for anti-trypanosomal drug discovery. Our data suggest that NVP-BEZ235, an advanced clinical candidate against solid tumors, merits further investigation as an agent for treating African sleeping sickness.
In our study we describe the potency of established phosphoinositide-3-kinase (PI3K) and mammalian Target of Rapamycin (mTOR) kinase inhibitors against three trypanosomatid parasites: Trypanosoma brucei, T. cruzi, and Leishmania sp., which are the causative agents for African sleeping sickness, Chagas disease, and leishmaniases, respectively. We noted that these parasites and humans express similar kinase enzymes. Since these similar human targets have been pursued by the drug industry for many years in the discovery of cellular growth and proliferation inhibitors, compounds developed as human anti-cancer agents should also have effect on inhibiting growth and proliferation of the parasites. With that in mind, we selected eight established PI3K and mTOR inhibitors for profiling against these pathogens. Among these inhibitors is an advanced clinical candidate against cancer, NVP-BEZ235, which we demonstrate to be a highly potent trypanocide in parasite cultures, and in a mouse model of T. brucei infection. Additionally, we describe observations of these inhibitors' effects on parasite growth and other cellular characteristics.
The methylenetetrahydrofolate dehydrogenase of the amethopterin-resistant strain Streptococcus faecium var. durans Ak was purified 100-fold. Because it is extremely labile, this enzyme required protection by 1 mm nicotinamide adenine dinucleotide phosphate (NADP+) during purification; 0.01 mm EADP+ with 0.1% bovine plasma albumin stabilized the purified enzyme during storage at −20 C. Although the enzyme has properties of sulfhydryl enzymes, thiol compounds were not stabilizers. Oxidation of methylenetetrahydrofolate, catalyzed by the purified enzyme preparation, is NADP+-specific and yields methenyltetrahydrofolate and the reduced pyridine nucleotide. Km values for NADP+ and for 5,10-methylenetetrahydrofolate (prepared as the formaldehyde adduct of biologically synthesized l,l-tetrahydrofolate) were calculated to be 0.021 and 0.026 mm, respectively. Neither purine bases and their derivatives nor serine inhibited the reaction. In growing cultures, the differential rate of synthesis of the methylenetetrahydrofolate dehydrogenase was dependent upon the composition of the medium. A medium which contained acid-hydrolyzed casein, and thus an exogenous source of serine, was repressive for this enzyme. In a serine-free, completely defined medium, the amount of folate added (for serine synthesis de novo) affected the duration of the initial exponential growth phase. At the termination of this phase, which primarily reflected the onset of a decreased rate of serine biosynthesis, synthesis of the methylenetetrahydrofolate dehydrogenase was derepressed. Exogenous serine in the completely defined medium prevented the derepression. Furthermore, physiological concentrations of l-serine were repressive not only for the dehydrogenase but also for the methenyltetrahydrofolate cyclohydrolase and the serine hydroxymethyl-transferase. Concomitantly, the differential rate of synthesis of the formyltetrahydrofolate synthetase of S. faecium var. durans Ak was increased. Apparently, serine regulates the differential rates of syntheses of these enzymes.
There is an urgent need to develop new, safe and effective treatments for human African trypanosomiasis (HAT) because current drugs have extremely poor safety profiles and are difficult to administer. Here we report the discovery of 2,4-diaminopyrimidines, exemplified by 4-[4-amino-5-(2-methoxy-benzoyl)-pyrimidin-2-ylamino]-piperidine-1-carboxylic acid phenylamide (SCYX-5070), as potent inhibitors of Trypanosoma brucei and the related trypanosomatid protozoans Leishmania spp.
In this work we show that loss of T. brucei viability following SCYX-5070 exposure was dependent on compound concentration and incubation time. Pulse incubation of T. brucei with SCYX-5070 demonstrates that a short period of exposure (10–12 hrs) is required to produce irreversible effects on survival or commit the parasites to death. SCYX-5070 cured an acute trypanosomiasis infection in mice without exhibiting signs of compound related acute or chronic toxicity. To identify the molecular target(s) responsible for the mechanism of action of 2,4-diaminopyrimidines against trypanosomatid protozoa, a representative analogue was immobilized on a solid matrix (sepharose) and used to isolate target proteins from parasite extracts. Mitogen-activated protein kinases (MAPKs) and cdc2-related kinases (CRKs) were identified as the major proteins specifically bound to the immobilized compound, suggesting their participation in the pharmacological effects of 2,4-diaminopyrimidines against trypanosomatid protozoan parasites.
Results show that 2,4-diaminopyrimidines have a good in vitro and in vivo pharmacological profile against trypanosomatid protozoans and that MAPKs and CRKs are potential molecular targets of these compounds. The 2,4-diminipyrimidines may serve as suitable leads for the development of novel treatments for HAT.
The protozoan parasite Trypanosoma brucei is the causative agent of human African trypanosomiasis (HAT) or sleeping sickness, a fatal disease affecting nearly half a million people in sub-Saharan Africa. Current treatments for HAT have very poor safety profiles and are difficult to administer. There is an urgent need for new, safe and effective treatments for sleeping sickness. This work describes the discovery of 2,4-diaminopyrimidines, exemplified by 4-[4-amino-5-(2-methoxy-benzoyl)-pyrimidin-2-ylamino]-piperidine-1-carboxylic acid phenylamide or SCYX-5070, as potent inhibitors of T. brucei growth in vitro and also in animal models for HAT. To determine the parasite proteins responsible for interaction with SCYX-5070 and related compounds, affinity pull-downs were performed followed by sequence analysis and parasite genome database searching. The work revealed that mitogen-activated protein kinases (MAPKs) and cdc2-related kinases (CRKs) are the major proteins specifically bound to the immobilized compound, suggesting their potential participation in the pharmacological effects of 2,4-diaminopyrimidines against trypanosomatid protozoan parasites. These data strongly support the use of 2,4-diminipyrimidines as leads for the development of new drug candidates for the treatment of HAT.
Trypanosomatid protozoan parasites lack a functional heme biosynthetic pathway, so must acquire heme from the environment to survive. However, the molecular pathway responsible for heme acquisition by these organisms is unknown. Here we show that L. amazonensis LHR1, a homolog of the C. elegans plasma membrane heme transporter HRG-4, functions in heme transport. Tagged LHR1 localized to the plasma membrane and to endocytic compartments, in both L. amazonensis and mammalian cells. Heme deprivation in L. amazonensis increased LHR1 transcript levels, promoted uptake of the fluorescent heme analog ZnMP, and increased the total intracellular heme content of promastigotes. Conversely, deletion of one LHR1 allele reduced ZnMP uptake and the intracellular heme pool by approximately 50%, indicating that LHR1 is a major heme importer in L. amazonensis. Viable parasites with correct replacement of both LHR1 alleles could not be obtained despite extensive attempts, suggesting that this gene is essential for the survival of promastigotes. Notably, LHR1 expression allowed Saccharomyces cerevisiae to import heme from the environment, and rescued growth of a strain deficient in heme biosynthesis. Syntenic genes with high sequence identity to LHR1 are present in the genomes of several species of Leishmania and also Trypanosoma cruzi and Trypanosoma brucei, indicating that therapeutic agents targeting this transporter could be effective against a broad group of trypanosomatid parasites that cause serious human disease.
The biological activity of many proteins and enzymes requires heme, a large organic ring containing one iron atom at the center. It has been known for several decades that trypanosomatid protozoa lack several enzymes in the heme biosynthetic pathway. Therefore, unlike mammalian cells that can synthesize heme, these unicellular organisms must acquire heme from the environment. However, the mechanism by which this critical co-factor is transported into trypanosomatid parasites was unknown. In this study we identified LHR1, a trans-membrane protein from Leishmania amazonensis that mediates transport of extracellular heme into the parasites. Parasites partially deficient in LHR1 are impaired in heme import, and strains completely deficient do not survive. Genes highly similar to LHR1 are present in several species of trypanosomatid parasites that cause human disease, identifying this transporter as an important target for the development of anti-parasitic drugs.
Leishmaniasis is a neglected disease caused by Leishmania, an intracellular protozoan parasite which possesses a unique thiol metabolism based on trypanothione. Trypanothione is used as a source of electrons by the tryparedoxin/tryparedoxin peroxidase system (TXN/TXNPx) to reduce the hydroperoxides produced by macrophages during infection. This detoxification pathway is not only unique to the parasite but is also essential for its survival; therefore, it constitutes a most attractive drug target. Several forms of TXNPx, with very high sequence identity to one another, have been found in Leishmania strains, one of which has been used as a component of a potential anti-leishmanial polyprotein vaccine. The structures of cytosolic TXN and TXNPx from L. major (LmTXN and LmTXNPx) offer a unique opportunity to study peroxide reduction in Leishmania parasites at a molecular level, and may provide new tools for multienzyme inhibition-based drug discovery. Structural analyses bring out key structural features to elucidate LmTXN and LmTXNPx function. LmTXN displays an unusual N-terminal α-helix which allows the formation of a stable domain-swapped dimer. In LmTXNPx, crystallized in reducing condition, both the locally unfolded (LU) and fully folded (FF) conformations, typical of the oxidized and reduced protein respectively, are populated. The structural analysis presented here points to a high flexibility of the loop that includes the peroxidatic cysteine which facilitates Cys52 to form an inter-chain disulfide bond with the resolving cysteine (Cys173), thereby preventing over-oxidation which would inactivate the enzyme. Analysis of the electrostatic surface potentials of both LmTXN and LmTXNPx unveils the structural elements at the basis of functionally relevant interaction between the two proteins. Finally, the structural analysis of TXNPx allows us to identify the position of the epitopes that make the protein antigenic and therefore potentially suitable to be used in an anti-leishmanial polyprotein vaccine.
Leishmania spp. are protozoa responsible for Leishmaniases, neglected diseases killing up to 60,000 people every year. Current therapies rely mainly on antimonial drugs that are inadequate due to poor drug efficacy and safety, combined with increasing drug resistance. To overcome these problems, there is an urgent need to find new and more affordable drugs. Leishmania reduces the hydrogen peroxide produced by macrophages during the infection by means of the tryparedoxin/tryparedoxin peroxidase couple. The two enzymes are potentially suitable drug targets since they are both necessary for parasite survival and absent in the human host. To understand the molecular basis of peroxide reduction in the Leishmania parasites, we have solved the X-ray crystal structures of both enzymes. Structural analyses highlight oligomerization of the two proteins and allow the regions responsible for their interaction to be identified. Moreover, based on the X-ray structures and on electronic microscopy data present in literature for the homologous proteins from Trypanosoma brucei, we have generated a model of interaction between tryparedoxin and tryparedoxin peroxidase from L. major. From the X-ray structure and from this model, we have identified the epitopes of tryparedoxin peroxidase, which is part of a potential threecomponent vaccine that is presently being studied in animal models and in human.
Chagas Disease is the leading cause of heart failure in Latin America. Current drug therapy is limited by issues of both efficacy and severe side effects. Trypansoma cruzi, the protozoan agent of Chagas Disease, is closely related to two other major global pathogens, Leishmania spp., responsible for leishmaniasis, and Trypansoma brucei, the causative agent of African Sleeping Sickness. Both T. cruzi and Leishmania parasites have an essential requirement for ergosterol, and are thus vulnerable to inhibitors of sterol 14α-demethylase (CYP51), which catalyzes the conversion of lanosterol to ergosterol. Clinically employed anti-fungal azoles inhibit ergosterol biosynthesis in fungi, and specific azoles are also effective against both Trypanosoma and Leishmania parasites. However, modification of azoles to enhance efficacy and circumvent potential drug resistance has been problematic for both parasitic and fungal infections due to the lack of structural insights into drug binding.
We have determined the crystal structures for CYP51 from T. cruzi (resolutions of 2.35 Å and 2.27 Å), and from the related pathogen T. brucei (resolutions of 2.7 Å and 2.6 Å), co-crystallized with the antifungal drugs fluconazole and posaconazole. Remarkably, both drugs adopt multiple conformations when binding the target. The fluconazole 2,4-difluorophenyl ring flips 180° depending on the H-bonding interactions with the BC-loop. The terminus of the long functional tail group of posaconazole is bound loosely in the mouth of the hydrophobic substrate binding tunnel, suggesting that the major contribution of the tail to drug efficacy is for pharmacokinetics rather than in interactions with the target.
The structures provide new insights into binding of azoles to CYP51 and mechanisms of potential drug resistance. Our studies define in structural detail the CYP51 therapeutic target in T. cruzi, and offer a starting point for rationally designed anti-Chagasic drugs with improved efficacy and reduced toxicity.
Chagas Disease is caused by kinetoplastid protozoa Trypanosoma cruzi, whose sterols resemble those of fungi, in both composition and biosynthetic pathway. Azole inhibitors of sterol 14α-demethylase (CYP51), such as fluconazole, itraconazole, voriconazole, and posaconazole, successfully treat fungal infections in humans. Efforts have been made to translate anti-fungal azoles into a second-use application for Chagas Disease. Ravuconazole and posaconazole have been recently proposed as candidates for clinical trials with Chagas Disease patients. However, the widespread use of posaconazole for long-term treatment of chronic infections may be limited by hepatic and renal toxicity, a requirement for simultaneous intake of a fatty meal or nutritional supplement to enhance absorption, and cost. To aid our search for structurally and synthetically simple CYP51 inhibitors, we have determined the crystal structures of the CYP51 targets in T. cruzi and T. brucei, both bound to the anti-fungal drugs fluconazole or posaconazole. The structures provide a basis for a design of new drugs targeting Chagas Disease, and also make it possible to model the active site characteristics of the highly homologous Leishmania CYP51. This work provides a foundation for rational synthesis of new therapeutic agents targeting the three kinetoplastid parasites.
The bifunctional trypanothione synthetase-amidase catalyzes biosynthesis and hydrolysis of the glutathione-spermidine adduct trypanothione, the principal intracellular thiol-redox metabolite in parasitic trypanosomatids. These parasites are unique with regard to their reliance on trypanothione to determine intracellular thiol-redox balance in defense against oxidative and chemical stress and to regulate polyamine levels. Enzymes involved in trypanothione biosynthesis provide essential biological activities, and those absent from humans or for which orthologues are sufficiently distinct are attractive targets to underpin anti-parasitic drug discovery. The structure of Leishmania major trypanothione synthetase-amidase, determined in three crystal forms, reveals two catalytic domains. The N-terminal domain, a cysteine, histidine-dependent amidohydrolase/peptidase amidase, is a papain-like cysteine protease, and the C-terminal synthetase domain displays an ATP-grasp family fold common to C:N ligases. Modeling of substrates into each active site provides insight into the specificity and reactivity of this unusual enzyme, which is able to catalyze four reactions. The domain orientation is distinct from that observed in a related bacterial glutathionylspermidine synthetase. In trypanothione synthetase-amidase, the interactions formed by the C terminus, binding in and restricting access to the amidase active site, suggest that the balance of ligation and hydrolytic activity is directly influenced by the alignment of the domains with respect to each other and implicate conformational changes with amidase activity. The potential inhibitory role of the C terminus provides a mechanism to control relative levels of the critical metabolites, trypanothione, glutathionylspermidine, and spermidine in Leishmania.
The treatment for both leishmaniasis and trypanosomiasis, which are severe human infections caused by trypanosomatids belonging to Leishmania and Trypanosoma genera, respectively, is extremely limited because of concerns of toxicity and efficacy with the available anti-protozoan drugs, as well as the emergence of drug resistance. Consequently, the urgency for the discovery of new trypanosomatid targets and novel bioactive compounds is particularly necessary. In this context, the investigation of changes in parasite gene expression between drug resistant/sensitive strains and in the up-regulation of virulence-related genes in infective forms has brought to the fore the involvement of calpain-like proteins in several crucial pathophysiological processes performed by trypanosomatids. These studies were encouraged by the publication of the complete genome sequences of three human pathogenic trypanosomatids, Trypanosoma brucei, Trypanosoma cruzi and Leishmania major, which allowed in silico analyses that in turn directed the identification of numerous genes with interesting chemotherapeutic characteristics, including a large family of calpain-related proteins, in which to date 23 genes were assigned as calpains in T. brucei, 40 in T. cruzi and 33 in L. braziliensis. In the present review, we intend to add to these biochemical/biological reports the investigations performed upon the inhibitory capability of calpain inhibitors against human pathogenic trypanosomatids.
Alternative chemotherapy; calpain; Leishmania; monoxenous trypanosomatids; peptidase inhibitor; Trypanosoma; virulence.
Folate-dependent enzymes are compartmentalized between the cytoplasm and mitochondria of eukaryotes. The role of mitochondrial folate-dependent metabolism and the extent of its contribution to cytoplasmic processes are areas of active investigation. NAD-dependent methylenetetrahydrofolate dehydrogenase-methenyltetrahydrofolate cyclohydrolase (NMDMC) catalyzes the interconversion of 5,10-methylenetetrahydrofolate and 10-formyltetrahydrofolate in mitochondria of mammalian cells, but its metabolic role is not yet clear. Its expression in embryonic tissues but not in most adult tissues as well as its stringent transcriptional regulation led us to postulate that it may play a role in embryonic development. To investigate the metabolic role of NMDMC, we used a knockout approach to delete the nmdmc gene in mice. Heterozygous mice appear healthy, but homozygous NMDMC knockout mice die in utero. At embryonic day 12.5 (E12.5), homozygous null embryos exhibit no obvious developmental defects but are smaller and pale and die soon thereafter. Mutant fetal livers contain fewer nucleated cells and lack the characteristic redness of wild-type or heterozygous livers. The frequencies of CFU-erythroid (CFU-E) and burst-forming unit-erythroid (BFU-E) from fetal livers of E12.5 null mutants were not reduced compared with those of wild-type or heterozygous embryos. It has been assumed that initiation of protein synthesis in mitochondria requires a formylated methionyl-tRNAfmet. One role postulated for NMDMC is to provide 10-formyltetrahydrofolate as a formyl group donor for the synthesis of this formylmethionyl-tRNAfmet. To determine if the loss of NMDMC impairs protein synthesis and thus could be a cause of embryonic lethality, mitochondrial translation products were examined in cells in culture. Mitochondrial protein synthesis was unaffected in NMDMC-null mutant cell lines compared with the wild type. These results show that NMDMC is not required to support initiation of protein synthesis in mitochondria in isolated cells but instead demonstrate an essential role for mitochondrial folate metabolism during embryonic development.
Clostridium thermoaceticum ferments xylose, fructose, and glucose with acetate as the only product. In fermentations with mixtures of the sugars, xylose is first fermented, then fructose, and last, glucose. Fructose inhibits the fermentation of glucose, and this inhibition appears to be due to a repression of the synthesis of an enzyme needed for glucose utilization. Addition of metals to the culture medium increases the cell yield drastically from about 7 to 18 g per liter, and Y(glucose) values between 40 and 50 are obtained. According to the postulated pathways of the fermentation of glucose and synthesis of acetate from CO2 by C. thermoaceticum, 3 mol of ATP are available as energy for growth. Thus a Y(adenosine 5′-triphosphate) of 13 to 16 is obtained. Because the normal Y(ATP) value is 10.5, this could mean that an additional source of ATP is available by an unknown mechanism. The addition of metals also increases the nicotinamide adenine dinucleotide phosphate-dependent formate dehydrogenase activity, the overall reaction (14CO2 → acetate), and the incorporation of the methyl group of 5-methyltetrahydrofolate into acetate. These reactions are catalyzed very efficiently by cells harvested in early growth, whereas cells obtained at the end of a fermentation have very low formate dehydrogenase activity and capacity to incorporate CO2 into acetate. The following enzymes involved in the synthesis of acetate from CO2 and in the metabolism of pyruvate are present in extracts of C. thermoaceticum: 10-formyltetrahydrofolate synthetase, 5,10-methenyltetrahydrofolate cyclohydrolase, 5,10-methylenetetrahydrofolate dehydrogenase, 5,10-methylenetetrahydrofolate reductase, phosphate acetyltransferase, and acetate kinase. These enzymes are not or are very little affected by the addition of metals to the growth medium.
The amount of corrinoids in cells from early growth is low, whereas it is high in cells harvested late in growth. The opposite is found for the activity of δ-aminolevulinate dehydratase, which is high at the beginning of growth and low at the end.
The trypanosomatids Leishmania major, Trypanosoma brucei and Trypanosoma cruzi cause some of the most debilitating diseases of humankind: cutaneous leishmaniasis, African sleeping sickness, and Chagas disease. These protozoa possess complex life cycles that involve development in mammalian and insect hosts, and a tightly coordinated cell cycle ensures propagation of the highly polarized cells. However, the ways in which the parasites respond to their environment and coordinate intracellular processes are poorly understood. As a part of an effort to understand parasite signaling functions, we report the results of a genome-wide analysis of protein kinases (PKs) of these three trypanosomatids.
Bioinformatic searches of the trypanosomatid genomes for eukaryotic PKs (ePKs) and atypical PKs (aPKs) revealed a total of 176 PKs in T. brucei, 190 in T. cruzi and 199 in L. major, most of which are orthologous across the three species. This is approximately 30% of the number in the human host and double that of the malaria parasite, Plasmodium falciparum. The representation of various groups of ePKs differs significantly as compared to humans: trypanosomatids lack receptor-linked tyrosine and tyrosine kinase-like kinases, although they do possess dual-specificity kinases. A relative expansion of the CMGC, STE and NEK groups has occurred. A large number of unique ePKs show no strong affinity to any known group. The trypanosomatids possess few ePKs with predicted transmembrane domains, suggesting that receptor ePKs are rare. Accessory Pfam domains, which are frequently present in human ePKs, are uncommon in trypanosomatid ePKs.
Trypanosomatids possess a large set of PKs, comprising approximately 2% of each genome, suggesting a key role for phosphorylation in parasite biology. Whilst it was possible to place most of the trypanosomatid ePKs into the seven established groups using bioinformatic analyses, it has not been possible to ascribe function based solely on sequence similarity. Hence the connection of stimuli to protein phosphorylation networks remains enigmatic. The presence of numerous PKs with significant sequence similarity to known drug targets, as well as a large number of unusual kinases that might represent novel targets, strongly argue for functional analysis of these molecules.
Trypanosoma rangeli is a hemoflagellate protozoan parasite infecting humans and other wild and domestic mammals across Central and South America. It does not cause human disease, but it can be mistaken for the etiologic agent of Chagas disease, Trypanosoma cruzi. We have sequenced the T. rangeli genome to provide new tools for elucidating the distinct and intriguing biology of this species and the key pathways related to interaction with its arthropod and mammalian hosts.
The T. rangeli haploid genome is ∼24 Mb in length, and is the smallest and least repetitive trypanosomatid genome sequenced thus far. This parasite genome has shorter subtelomeric sequences compared to those of T. cruzi and T. brucei; displays intraspecific karyotype variability and lacks minichromosomes. Of the predicted 7,613 protein coding sequences, functional annotations could be determined for 2,415, while 5,043 are hypothetical proteins, some with evidence of protein expression. 7,101 genes (93%) are shared with other trypanosomatids that infect humans. An ortholog of the dcl2 gene involved in the T. brucei RNAi pathway was found in T. rangeli, but the RNAi machinery is non-functional since the other genes in this pathway are pseudogenized. T. rangeli is highly susceptible to oxidative stress, a phenotype that may be explained by a smaller number of anti-oxidant defense enzymes and heat-shock proteins.
Phylogenetic comparison of nuclear and mitochondrial genes indicates that T. rangeli and T. cruzi are equidistant from T. brucei. In addition to revealing new aspects of trypanosome co-evolution within the vertebrate and invertebrate hosts, comparative genomic analysis with pathogenic trypanosomatids provides valuable new information that can be further explored with the aim of developing better diagnostic tools and/or therapeutic targets.
Comparative genomics is a powerful tool that affords detailed study of the genetic and evolutionary basis for aspects of lifecycles and pathologies caused by phylogenetically related pathogens. The reference genome sequences of three trypanosomatids, T. brucei, T. cruzi and L. major, and subsequent addition of multiple Leishmania and Trypanosoma genomes has provided data upon which large-scale investigations delineating the complex systems biology of these human parasites has been built. Here, we compare the annotated genome sequence of T. rangeli strain SC-58 to available genomic sequence and annotation data from related species. We provide analysis of gene content, genome architecture and key characteristics associated with the biology of this non-pathogenic trypanosome. Moreover, we report striking new genomic features of T. rangeli compared with its closest relative, T. cruzi, such as (1) considerably less amplification on the gene copy number within multigene virulence factor families such as MASPs, trans-sialidases and mucins; (2) a reduced repertoire of genes encoding anti-oxidant defense enzymes; and (3) the presence of vestigial orthologs of the RNAi machinery, which are insufficient to constitute a functional pathway. Overall, the genome of T. rangeli provides for a much better understanding of the identity, evolution, regulation and function of trypanosome virulence determinants for both mammalian host and insect vector.
The 5,10-methylenetetrahydrofolate dehydrogenase of heterotrophically grown Peptostreptococcus productus Marburg was purified to apparent homogeneity. The purified enzyme catalyzed the reversible oxidation of methylenetetrahydrofolate with NADP+ as the electron acceptor at a specific activity of 627 U/mg of protein. The Km values for methylenetetrahydrofolate and for NADP+ were 27 and 113 microM, respectively. The enzyme, which lacked 5,10-methenyltetrahydrofolate cyclohydrolase activity, was insensitive to oxygen and was thermolabile at temperatures above 40 degrees C. The apparent molecular mass of the enzyme was estimated by gel filtration to be 66 kDa. Sodium dodecyl sulfate-polyacrylamide gel electrophoresis revealed the presence of a single subunit of 34 kDa, accounting for a dimeric alpha 2 structure of the enzyme. Kinetic studies on the initial reaction velocities with different concentrations of both substrates in the absence and presence of NADPH as the reaction product were interpreted to indicate that the enzyme followed a sequential reaction mechanism. After gentle ultracentrifugation of crude extracts, the enzyme was recovered to greater than 95% in the soluble (supernatant) fraction. Sodium (10 microM to 10 mM) had no effect on enzymatic activity. The data were taken to indicate that the enzyme was similar to the methylenetetrahydrofolate dehydrogenases of other homoacetogenic bacteria and that the enzyme is not involved in energy conservation of P. productus.
•There is an urgent need of new treatments against trypanosomatids-borne diseases.•DNA topoisomerases are pointed as potential drug targets against unicellular parasites.•Trypanosomatids have a full set of DNA topoisomerases in both nucleus and kinetoplast.•TopII and TopIII are located in the kinetoplast and fully involved in kDNA replication.•Tritryps TopIB differ in structure from mammalian’s pointing to an attractive target.
The Trypanosomatidae family, composed of unicellular parasites, causes severe vector-borne diseases that afflict human populations worldwide. Chagas disease, sleeping sickness, as well as different sorts of leishmaniases are amongst the most important infectious diseases produced by Trypanosoma cruzi, Trypanosoma brucei and Leishmania spp., respectively. All these infections are closely related to weak health care services in low-income populations of less developed and least economically developed countries. Search for new therapeutic targets in order to hit these pathogens is of paramount priority, as no effective vaccine is currently in use against any of these parasites. Furthermore, present-day chemotherapy comprises old-fashioned drugs full of important side effects. Besides, they are prone to produce tolerance and resistance as a consequence of their continuous use for decades. DNA topoisomerases (Top) are ubiquitous enzymes responsible for solving the torsional tensions caused during replication and transcription processes, as well as in maintaining genomic stability during DNA recombination. As the inhibition of these enzymes produces cell arrest and triggers cell death, Top inhibitors are among the most effective and most widely used drugs in both cancer and antibacterial therapies. Top relaxation and decatenation activities, which are based on a common nicking–closing cycle involving one or both DNA strands, have been pointed as a promising drug target. Specific inhibitors that bind to the interface of DNA-Top complexes can stabilize Top-mediated transient DNA breaks. In addition, important structural differences have been found between Tops from the Trypanosomatidae family members and Tops from the host. Such dissimilarities make these proteins very interesting for drug design and molecular intervention. The present review is a critical update of the last findings regarding trypanosomatid’s Tops, their new structural features, their involvement both in the physiology and virulence of these parasites, as well as their use as promising targets for drug discovery.
Top, DNA topoisomerase; CL, cutaneous leishmaniasis; VL, visceral leishmaniasis; DALYs, disability-adjusted life years; kDNA, kinetoplast DNA; NTD, neglected tropical diseases; NGO, non-governmental organization; lk, linking number; NLS, Nuclear Localization Signal; Kinetoplastids; Tritryps; Topoisomerases; DNA topology; Target-based drug discovery; Chemotherapy
Clostridium formicoaceticum ferments fructose labeled with 14C in carbon 1, 4, 5, or 6 via the Embden Meyerhof pathway. In fermentations of fructose in the presence of 14CO2, acetate is formed labeled equally in both carbons. Extracts convert the methyl groups of 5-methyltetrahydrofolate and methyl-B12 to the methyl group of acetate in the presence of pyruvate. Formate dehydrogenase, 10-formyltetrahydrofolate synthetase, 5,10-methenyltetrahydrofolate cyclohydrolase, 5,10-methylenetetrahydrofolate dehydrogenase, and 5,10-methylenetetrahydrofolate reductase are present in extracts of C. formicoaceticum. These enzymes are needed for the conversion of CO2 to 5-methyltetrahydrofolate. It is proposed that acetate is totally synthesized from CO2 via the reactions catalyzed by the enzymes listed above and that 5-methyltetra-hydrofolate and a methylcorrinoid are intermediates in this synthesis.
The Leishmania genus comprises up to 35 species, some with status still under discussion. The multilocus sequence typing (MLST)—extensively used for bacteria—has been proposed for pathogenic trypanosomatids. For Leishmania, however, a detailed analysis and revision on the taxonomy is still required. We have partially sequenced four housekeeping genes—glucose-6-phosphate dehydrogenase (G6PD), 6-phosphogluconate dehydrogenase (6PGD), mannose phosphate isomerase (MPI) and isocitrate dehydrogenase (ICD)—from 96 Leishmania (Viannia) strains and assessed their discriminatory typing capacity. The fragments had different degrees of diversity, and are thus suitable to be used in combination for intra- and inter-specific inferences. Species-specific single nucleotide polymorphisms were detected, but not for all species; ambiguous sites indicating heterozygosis were observed, as well as the putative homozygous donor. A large number of haplotypes were detected for each marker; for 6PGD a possible ancestral allele for L. (Viannia) was found. Maximum parsimony-based haplotype networks were built. Strains of different species, as identified by multilocus enzyme electrophoresis (MLEE), formed separated clusters in each network, with exceptions. NeighborNet of concatenated sequences confirmed species-specific clusters, suggesting recombination occurring in L. braziliensis and L. guyanensis. Phylogenetic analysis indicates L. lainsoni and L. naiffi as the most divergent species and does not support L. shawi as a distinct species, placing it in the L. guyanensis cluster. BURST analysis resulted in six clonal complexes (CC), corresponding to distinct species. The L. braziliensis strains evaluated correspond to one widely geographically distributed CC and another restricted to one endemic area. This study demonstrates the value of systematic multilocus sequence analysis (MLSA) for determining intra- and inter-species relationships and presents an approach to validate the species status of some entities. Furthermore, it contributes to the phylogeny of L. (Viannia) and might be helpful for epidemiological and population genetics analysis based on haplotype/diplotype determinations and inferences.
Leishmania is a protozoan genus comprising many species, some associated with a human neglected disease called leishmaniasis. This parasite is found worldwide and is transmitted by sand flies, having numerous domestic and sylvatic animals as reservoirs. Leishmania is genetically and ecologically diverse and it has been argued that this has an impact on the epidemiology of the disease. Many typing methods have been proposed for the study of this diversity, although a generally agreed methodology is still required. Also, there is still a lack of consensus on the validity of some species. Multilocus sequence typing (MLST) is a method for studying the population structure and diversity of pathogens, but before an MLST scheme can be proposed it is essential to undertake a detailed analysis and selection of the sequences that are to be included in the system. Here, we sequenced four gene fragments of 96 L. (Viannia) strains, representing most species from this subgenus. Our results showed a good agreement between the current species assignment and the multilocus sequence analysis. Evidence of genetic recombination was found and the phylogenetic relationships were determined. Overall the results point to the feasibility of an MLST scheme for Leishmania and indicate that the four gene fragments analyzed could form part of this typing system. This will certainly be a valuable approach for taxonomy, population genetics, and epidemiological studies of this pathogen.
Cyclosporin A (CsA) has important anti-microbial activity against parasites of the genus Leishmania, suggesting CsA-binding cyclophilins (CyPs) as potential drug targets. However, no information is available on the genetic diversity of this important protein family, and the mechanisms underlying the cytotoxic effects of CsA on intracellular amastigotes are only poorly understood. Here, we performed a first genome-wide analysis of Leishmania CyPs and investigated the effects of CsA on host-free L. donovani amastigotes in order to elucidate the relevance of these parasite proteins for drug development.
Multiple sequence alignment and cluster analysis identified 17 Leishmania CyPs with significant sequence differences to human CyPs, but with highly conserved functional residues implicated in PPIase function and CsA binding. CsA treatment of promastigotes resulted in a dose-dependent inhibition of cell growth with an IC50 between 15 and 20 µM as demonstrated by proliferation assay and cell cycle analysis. Scanning electron microscopy revealed striking morphological changes in CsA treated promastigotes reminiscent to developing amastigotes, suggesting a role for parasite CyPs in Leishmania differentiation. In contrast to promastigotes, CsA was highly toxic to amastigotes with an IC50 between 5 and 10 µM, revealing for the first time a direct lethal effect of CsA on the pathogenic mammalian stage linked to parasite thermotolerance, independent from host CyPs. Structural modeling, enrichment of CsA-binding proteins from parasite extracts by FPLC, and PPIase activity assays revealed direct interaction of the inhibitor with LmaCyP40, a bifunctional cyclophilin with potential co-chaperone function.
The evolutionary expansion of the Leishmania CyP protein family and the toxicity of CsA on host-free amastigotes suggest important roles of PPIases in parasite biology and implicate Leishmania CyPs in key processes relevant for parasite proliferation and viability. The requirement of Leishmania CyP functions for intracellular parasite survival and their substantial divergence form host CyPs defines these proteins as prime drug targets.
Visceral leishmanisasis, also known as Kala Azar, is caused by the protozoan parasite Leishmania donovani. The L. donovani infectious cycle comprises two developmental stages, a motile promastigote stage that proliferates inside the digestive tract of the phlebotomine insect host, and a non-motile amastigote stage that differentiates inside the macrophages of mammalian hosts. Intracellular parasite survival in mouse and macrophage infection assays has been shown to be strongly compromised in the presence of the inhibitor cyclosporin A (CsA), which binds to members of the cyclophilin (CyP) protein family. It has been suggested that the toxic effects of CsA on amastigotes occurs indirectly via host cyclophilins, which may be required for intracellular parasite development and growth. Using a host-free L. donovani culture system we revealed for the first time a direct and stage-specific effect of CsA on promastigote growth and amastigote viability. We provided evidence that parasite killing occurs through a heat sensitivity mechanism likely due to direct inhibition of the co-chaperone cyclophilin 40. Our data allow important new insights into the function of the Leishmania CyP protein family in differentiation, growth, and intracellular survival, and define this class of molecules as important drug targets.
The neglected human diseases caused by trypanosomatids are currently treated with toxic therapy with limited efficacy. In search for novel anti-trypanosomatid agents, we showed previously that the Crotalus viridis viridis (Cvv) snake venom was active against infective forms of Trypanosoma cruzi. Here, we describe the purification of crovirin, a cysteine-rich secretory protein (CRISP) from Cvv venom with promising activity against trypanosomes and Leishmania.
Crude venom extract was loaded onto a reverse phase analytical (C8) column using a high performance liquid chromatographer. A linear gradient of water/acetonitrile with 0.1% trifluoroacetic acid was used. The peak containing the isolated protein (confirmed by SDS-PAGE and mass spectrometry) was collected and its protein content was measured. T. cruzi trypomastigotes and amastigotes, L. amazonensis promastigotes and amastigotes and T. brucei rhodesiense procyclic and bloodstream trypomastigotes were challenged with crovirin, whose toxicity was tested against LLC-MK2 cells, peritoneal macrophages and isolated murine extensor digitorum longus muscle. We purified a single protein from Cvv venom corresponding, according to Nano-LC MS/MS sequencing, to a CRISP of 24,893.64 Da, henceforth referred to as crovirin. Human infective trypanosomatid forms, including intracellular amastigotes, were sensitive to crovirin, with low IC50 or LD50 values (1.10–2.38 µg/ml). A considerably higher concentration (20 µg/ml) of crovirin was required to elicit only limited toxicity on mammalian cells.
This is the first report of CRISP anti-protozoal activity, and suggests that other members of this family might have potential as drugs or drug leads for the development of novel agents against trypanosomatid-borne neglected diseases.
The pathogenic trypanosomatid parasites of the genera Leishmania and Trypanosoma infect over 20 million people worldwide, with an annual incidence of ∼3 million new infections. An additional 400 million people are at risk of infection by exposure to parasite-infected insects which act as disease vectors. Trypanosomatid-borne diseases predominant in poorer nation and are considered neglected, having failed to attract the attention of the pharmaceutical industry. However, novel therapy is sorely needed for Trypanosoma and Leishmania infections, currently treated with ‘dated’ drugs that are often difficult to administer in resource-limiting conditions, have high toxicity and are by no means always successful, partly due to the emergence of drug resistance. The last few decades have witnessed a growing interest in examining the potential of bioactive toxins and poisons as drugs or drug leads, as well as for diagnostic applications. In this context, we isolated and purified crovirin, a protein from the Crotalus viridis viridis (Cvv) snake venom capable to inhibiting and/or lysing infective forms of trypanosomatid parasites, at concentrations that are not toxic to host cells. This feature makes crovirin a promising candidate protein for the development of novel therapy against neglected diseases caused by trypanosomatid pathogens.
The genome of the trypanosomatid protozoan genus Leishmania has been shown to undergo a number of changes relevant to drug resistance and virulence, such as gene amplification, chromosomal rearrangement, and variation in ploidy. Experimental approaches to the study of genomic changes have in some cases been limited by the fact that Leishmania cells are asexual diploids, as are some other trypanosomatids, pathogenic fungi, and cultured mammalian cells. Here we report upon a system which permits the measurement of several types of genomic change occurring at the dihydrofolate reductase-thymidylate synthase (DHFR-TS) locus. First, we show that DHFR-TS can function as a positive/negative marker. We used selection against DHFR-TS on a heterozygous line (+/HYG) to generate colonies exhibiting both loss of heterozygosity and structural mutations in DHFR-TS, permitting the first measurement of mutation frequencies in this parasite. Loss of heterozygosity occurred at a frequency ranging from 10(-4) to 10(-6) and was elevated 24-fold by treatment with gamma-irradiation, while the frequency of other events was less than 10(-6) and was increased more than 1,000-fold by nitrosoguanidine treatment. The frequency of loss of heterozygosity relative to other processes such as mutation and gene replacement has important implications for genetic variability in natural Leishmania populations and the generation of both targeted and random mutations. We also developed a protocol for null targeting of diploid cells, in which transfection of a DHFR-TS deletion construct into Leishmania cells followed by negative selection yielded parasites lacking DHFR-TS or foreign sequences. The null-targeting method can be applied to any diploid cell, at any locus for which a negative selection exists. Such marker-free auxotrophic Leishmania cells show potential as an attenuated vaccine, and the methods developed here provide a new approach for manipulating and characterizing the plasticity of the Leishmania genome.