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1.  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
2.  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
3.  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
4.  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
5.  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
6.  Structure-Based Design of Pteridine Reductase Inhibitors Targeting African Sleeping Sickness and the Leishmaniases† 
Journal of Medicinal Chemistry  2009;53(1):221-229.
Pteridine reductase (PTR1) is a target for drug development against Trypanosoma and Leishmania species, parasites that cause serious tropical diseases and for which therapies are inadequate. We adopted a structure-based approach to the design of novel PTR1 inhibitors based on three molecular scaffolds. A series of compounds, most newly synthesized, were identified as inhibitors with PTR1-species specific properties explained by structural differences between the T. brucei and L. major enzymes. The most potent inhibitors target T. brucei PTR1, and two compounds displayed antiparasite activity against the bloodstream form of the parasite. PTR1 contributes to antifolate drug resistance by providing a molecular bypass of dihydrofolate reductase (DHFR) inhibition. Therefore, combining PTR1 and DHFR inhibitors might improve therapeutic efficacy. We tested two new compounds with known DHFR inhibitors. A synergistic effect was observed for one particular combination highlighting the potential of such an approach for treatment of African sleeping sickness.
PMCID: PMC2804273  PMID: 19916554
7.  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
8.  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
9.  In-silico Investigation of Antitrypanosomal Phytochemicals from Nigerian Medicinal Plants 
Human African trypanosomiasis (HAT), a parasitic protozoal disease, is caused primarily by two subspecies of Trypanosoma brucei. HAT is a re-emerging disease and currently threatens millions of people in sub-Saharan Africa. Many affected people live in remote areas with limited access to health services and, therefore, rely on traditional herbal medicines for treatment.
A molecular docking study has been carried out on phytochemical agents that have been previously isolated and characterized from Nigerian medicinal plants, either known to be used ethnopharmacologically to treat parasitic infections or known to have in-vitro antitrypanosomal activity. A total of 386 compounds from 19 species of medicinal plants were investigated using in-silico molecular docking with validated Trypanosoma brucei protein targets that were available from the Protein Data Bank (PDB): Adenosine kinase (TbAK), pteridine reductase 1 (TbPTR1), dihydrofolate reductase (TbDHFR), trypanothione reductase (TbTR), cathepsin B (TbCatB), heat shock protein 90 (TbHSP90), sterol 14α-demethylase (TbCYP51), nucleoside hydrolase (TbNH), triose phosphate isomerase (TbTIM), nucleoside 2-deoxyribosyltransferase (TbNDRT), UDP-galactose 4′ epimerase (TbUDPGE), and ornithine decarboxylase (TbODC).
This study revealed that triterpenoid and steroid ligands were largely selective for sterol 14α-demethylase; anthraquinones, xanthones, and berberine alkaloids docked strongly to pteridine reductase 1 (TbPTR1); chromenes, pyrazole and pyridine alkaloids preferred docking to triose phosphate isomerase (TbTIM); and numerous indole alkaloids showed notable docking energies with UDP-galactose 4′ epimerase (TbUDPGE). Polyphenolic compounds such as flavonoid gallates or flavonoid glycosides tended to be promiscuous docking agents, giving strong docking energies with most proteins.
This in-silico molecular docking study has identified potential biomolecular targets of phytochemical components of antitrypanosomal plants and has determined which phytochemical classes and structural manifolds likely target trypanosomal enzymes. The results could provide the framework for synthetic modification of bioactive phytochemicals, de novo synthesis of structural motifs, and lead to further phytochemical investigations.
Author Summary
Traditional herbal medicine continues to play a key role in health, particularly in remote areas with limited access to “modern medicines”. Many plants are used in traditional Nigerian medicine to treat parasitic diseases. While many of these plants have shown notable activity against parasitic protozoa, in most cases the mode of activity is not known. That is, it is not known what biochemical entities are being targeted by the plant chemical constituents. In this work, we have carried out molecular docking studies of known phytochemicals from Nigerian medicinal plants used to treat human African trypanosomiasis (sleeping sickness) with known biochemical targets in the Trypanosoma brucei parasite. The goals of this study were to identify the protein targets that the medicinal plants are affecting and to discern general trends in protein target selectivity for phytochemical classes. In doing so, we have theoretically identified strongly interacting plant chemicals and their biomolecular targets. These results should lead to further research to verify the efficacy of the phytochemical agents as well as delineate possible modifications of the active compounds to increase potency or selectivity.
PMCID: PMC3404109  PMID: 22848767
10.  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
11.  Structure of Leishmania major cysteine synthase 
A crystallographic and biochemical study of L. major cysteine synthase, which is a pyridoxyl phosphate-dependent enzyme, is reported. The structure was determined to 1.8 Å resolution and revealed that the cofactor has been lost and that a fragment of γ-poly-d-glutamic acid, a crystallization ingredient, was bound in the active site. The enzyme was inhibited by peptides.
Cysteine biosynthesis is a potential target for drug development against parasitic Leishmania species; these protozoa are responsible for a range of serious diseases. To improve understanding of this aspect of Leishmania biology, a crystallographic and biochemical study of L. major cysteine synthase has been undertaken, seeking to understand its structure, enzyme activity and modes of inhibition. Active enzyme was purified, assayed and crystallized in an orthorhombic form with a dimer in the asymmetric unit. Diffraction data extending to 1.8 Å resolution were measured and the structure was solved by molecular replacement. A fragment of γ-poly-d-glutamic acid, a constituent of the crystallization mixture, was bound in the enzyme active site. Although a d-­glutamate tetrapeptide had insignificant inhibitory activity, the enzyme was competitively inhibited (K i = 4 µM) by DYVI, a peptide based on the C-­terminus of the partner serine acetyltransferase with which the enzyme forms a complex. The structure surprisingly revealed that the cofactor pyridoxal phosphate had been lost during crystallization.
PMCID: PMC3388911  PMID: 22750854
Arabidopsis thaliana; cysteine synthase; Leishmania major
12.  N-Myristoyltransferase from Leishmania donovani: Structural and Functional Characterisation of a Potential Drug Target for Visceral Leishmaniasis 
Journal of Molecular Biology  2010;396(4):985-999.
N-Myristoyltransferase (NMT) catalyses the attachment of the 14-carbon saturated fatty acid, myristate, to the amino-terminal glycine residue of a subset of eukaryotic proteins that function in multiple cellular processes, including vesicular protein trafficking and signal transduction. In these pathways, N-myristoylation facilitates association of substrate proteins with membranes or the hydrophobic domains of other partner peptides. NMT function is essential for viability in all cell types tested to date, demonstrating that this enzyme has potential as a target for drug development. Here, we provide genetic evidence that NMT is likely to be essential for viability in insect stages of the pathogenic protozoan parasite, Leishmania donovani, causative agent of the tropical infectious disease, visceral leishmaniasis. The open reading frame of L. donovaniNMT has been amplified and used to overproduce active recombinant enzyme in Escherichia coli, as demonstrated by gel mobility shift assays of ligand binding and peptide-myristoylation activity in scintillation proximity assays. The purified protein has been crystallized in complex with the non-hydrolysable substrate analogue S-(2-oxo)pentadecyl-CoA, and its structure was solved by molecular replacement at 1.4 Å resolution. The structure has as its defining feature a 14-stranded twisted β-sheet on which helices are packed so as to form an extended and curved substrate-binding groove running across two protein lobes. The fatty acyl-CoA is largely buried in the N-terminal lobe, its binding leading to the loosening of a flap, which in unliganded NMT structures, occludes the protein substrate binding site in the carboxy-terminal lobe. These studies validate L. donovani NMT as a potential target for development of new therapeutic agents against visceral leishmaniasis.
PMCID: PMC2829124  PMID: 20036251
ARF, ADP-ribosylation factor; DIG, digoxigenin; HASP, hydrophilic acylated surface protein; HYG, hygromycin; NEO, neomycin; NHM, non-hydrolysable myristoyl-CoA analogue; NMT, N-myristoyltransferase; ORF, open reading frame; PAC, puromycin; SPA, scintillation proximity assay; VL, visceral leishmaniasis; CaNMT, HsNMT, LdNMT and ScNMT, N-myristoyltransferase from Candida albicans, Homo sapiens, Leishmania donovani and Saccharomyces cerevisiae, respectively; N-myristoyltransferase; Leishmania; visceral leishmaniasis; crystal structure; drug target
13.  Structure-Based Design and Synthesis of Antiparasitic Pyrrolopyrimidines Targeting Pteridine Reductase 1 
Journal of Medicinal Chemistry  2014;57(15):6479-6494.
The treatment of Human African trypanosomiasis remains a major unmet health need in sub-Saharan Africa. Approaches involving new molecular targets are important; pteridine reductase 1 (PTR1), an enzyme that reduces dihydrobiopterin in Trypanosoma spp., has been identified as a candidate target, and it has been shown previously that substituted pyrrolo[2,3-d]pyrimidines are inhibitors of PTR1 from Trypanosoma brucei (J. Med. Chem.2010, 53, 221–229). In this study, 61 new pyrrolo[2,3-d]pyrimidines have been prepared, designed with input from new crystal structures of 23 of these compounds complexed with PTR1, and evaluated in screens for enzyme inhibitory activity against PTR1 and in vitro antitrypanosomal activity. Eight compounds were sufficiently active in both screens to take forward to in vivo evaluation. Thus, although evidence for trypanocidal activity in a stage I disease model in mice was obtained, the compounds were too toxic to mice for further development.
PMCID: PMC4136963  PMID: 25007262
14.  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
15.  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
16.  Unresponsiveness to Glucantime Treatment in Iranian Cutaneous Leishmaniasis due to Drug-Resistant Leishmania tropica Parasites  
PLoS Medicine  2006;3(5):e162.
Recent circumstantial evidence suggests that an increasing number of Iranian patients with cutaneous leishmaniasis are unresponsive to meglumine antimoniate (Glucantime), the first line of treatment in Iran. This study was designed to determine whether the clinical responses (healing, or non-healing) were correlated with the susceptibility of Leishmania parasites to Glucantime.
Methods and Findings
In vitro susceptibility testing was first performed on 185 isolated parasites in the intracellular mouse peritoneal macrophage model. A strong correlation between the clinical outcome and the in vitro effective concentration 50% (EC 50) values was observed. Parasites derived from patients with non-healing lesions had EC 50 values at least 4-fold higher than parasites derived from lesions of healing patients. A selection of these strains was typed at the molecular level by pulsed-field gels and by sequencing the pteridine reductase 1 (PTR1) gene. These techniques indicated that 28 out of 31 selected strains were Leishmania tropica and that three were Leishmania major. The L. major isolates were part of a distinct pulsed-field group, and the L. tropica isolates could be classified in three related additional pulsed-field groups. For each pulsed-field karyotype, we selected sensitive and resistant parasites in which we transfected the firefly luciferase marker to assess further the in vitro susceptibility of field isolates in the monocyte cell line THP1. These determinations confirmed unequivocally that patients with non-healing lesions were infected with L. tropica parasites resistant to Glucantime. Additional characterization of the resistant isolates showed that resistance is stable and can be reversed by buthionine sulfoximine, an inhibitor of glutathione biosynthesis.
To the authors' knowledge, this is the first report of proven resistant parasites contributing to treatment failure for cutaneous leishmaniasis and shows that primary Glucantime-resistant L. tropica field isolates are now frequent in Iran.
Parasites isolated from patients with non-healing lesions are frequently resistant to to meglumine antimoniate, the first line of treatment in Iran.
PMCID: PMC1435779  PMID: 16605301
17.  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
18.  Cloning, expression and crystallization of dihydrodipicolinate reductase from methicillin-resistant Staphylococcus aureus  
Given the recent rise in antimicrobial resistance, there is an urgent need to identify and characterize new antibiotic drug targets. One such target is dihydrodipicolinate reductase (DHDPR), which is an essential bacterial enzyme that catalyzes the second step in the lysine-biosynthesis pathway. In this paper, the cloning, expression, purification and crystallization of DHDPR from methicillin-resistant S. aureus are presented.
Dihydrodipicolinate reductase (DHDPR; EC catalyzes the nucleotide (NADH/NADPH) dependent second step of the lysine-biosynthesis pathway in bacteria and plants. Here, the cloning, expression, purification, crystallization and preliminary X-ray diffraction analysis of DHDPR from methicillin-resistant Staphylococcus aureus (MRSA-DHDPR) are presented. The enzyme was crystallized in a number of forms, predominantly with ammonium sulfate as a precipitant, with the best crystal form diffracting to beyond 3.65 Å resolution. Crystal structures of the apo form as well as of cofactor (NADPH) bound and inhibitor (2,6-pyridinedicarboxylate) bound forms of MRSA-DHDPR will provide insight into the structure and function of this essential enzyme and valid drug target.
PMCID: PMC2805538  PMID: 20057072
antibiotic resistance; antimicrobials; dihydrodipicolinate reductase; lysine biosynthesis; MRSA; Staphylococcus aureus
19.  Leishmania donovani Argininosuccinate Synthase Is an Active Enzyme Associated with Parasite Pathogenesis 
Gene expression analysis in Leishmania donovani (Ld) identified an orthologue of the urea cycle enzyme, argininosuccinate synthase (LdASS), that was more abundantly expressed in amastigotes than in promastigotes. In order to characterize in detail this newly identified protein in Leishmania, we determined its enzymatic activity, subcellular localization in the parasite and affect on virulence in vivo.
Methodology/Principal Findings
Two parasite cell lines either over expressing wild type LdASS or a mutant form (G128S) associated with severe cases of citrullinemia in humans were developed. In addition we also produced bacterially expressed recombinant forms of the same proteins. Our results demonstrated that LdASS has argininosuccinate synthase enzymatic activity that is abolished using an ASS specific inhibitor (MDLA: methyl-D-L-Aspartic acid). However, the mutant form of the protein is inactive. We demonstrate that though LdASS has a glycosomal targeting signal that binds the targeting apparatus in vitro, only a small proportion of the total cellular ASS is localized in a vesicle, as indicated by protection from protease digestion of the crude organelle fraction. The majority of LdASS was found to be in the cytosolic fraction that may include large cytosolic complexes as indicated by the punctate distribution in IFA. Surprisingly, comparison to known glycosomal proteins by IFA revealed that LdASS was located in a structure different from the known glycosomal vesicles. Significantly, parasites expressing a mutant form of LdASS associated with a loss of in vitro activity had reduced virulence in vivo in BALB/c mice as demonstrated by a significant reduction in the parasite load in spleen and liver.
Our study suggests that LdASS is an active enzyme, with unique localization and essential for parasite survival and growth in the mammalian host. Based on these observations LdASS could be further explored as a potential drug target.
Author Summary
Leishmaniasis is a neglected tropical disease that continues to pose a public health threat worldwide due to the absence of an effective vaccine, drug toxicity and parasite resistance. In an attempt to identify new potential drug targets, we focused our research on Leishmania donovani argininosuccinate synthase (LdASS), which is more highly expressed in the virulent form of the parasite. Using two cell lines that over expressed the wild type or a mutant form of LdASS, we demonstrated that LdASS has argininosuccinate synthase activity, which is absent in the mutant form containing the G128S point mutation. Infection of mice with the cell line over expressing a mutant LdASS had a negative dominant effect as indicated by the reduction in parasite load. LdASS is localized to large cytosolic complexes and a small portion is in a new vesicular subset different from the known glycosomes. Thus LdASS constitutes a new virulence factor that may be a potential drug target.
PMCID: PMC3475689  PMID: 23094117
20.  Cloning, overexpression, purification and crystallization of the CRN12 coiled-coil domain from Leishmania donovani  
The L. donovani coronin CRN12 coiled-coil domain (5.8 kDa) was cloned, overexpressed and purified to homogeneity. Crystals of recombinant L. donovani coronin CRN12 coiled-coil domain were grown by vapour diffusion using a hanging-drop setup.
Leishmania donovani coronin CRN12 is an actin-binding protein which consists of two domains: an N-terminal WD repeat domain and a C-terminal coiled-coil domain. The coiled-coil domain is 53 residues in length. Helix–helix interactions in general and coiled coils in particular are ubiquitous in the structure of proteins and play a significant role in the association among proteins, including supramolecular assemblies and transmembrane receptors that mediate cellular signalling, transport and actin dynamics. The L. donovani coronin CRN12 coiled-coil domain (5.8 kDa) was cloned, overexpressed, purified to homogeneity and the N-terminal 6×His tag was successfully removed by thrombin cleavage. Crystals of recombinant L. donovani coronin CRN12 coiled-coil domain were grown by vapour diffusion using a hanging-drop setup. Diffraction-quality crystals were obtained and data extending to 2.46 Å resolution were collected at 100 K on BM14, ESRF, Grenoble, France. The crystal belonged to the monoclinic space group C2, with unit-cell parameters a = 118.0, b = 50.6, c = 46.0 Å, β = 111.0°. Matthews coefficient (V M) calculations suggested the presence of 4–6 molecules in the asymmetric unit, corresponding to a solvent content of ∼33–55%, and are consistent with self-rotation function calculations.
PMCID: PMC3660895  PMID: 23695571
CRN12 coiled-coil domain; Leishmania donovani
21.  Targeting Ergosterol Biosynthesis in Leishmania donovani: Essentiality of Sterol 14alpha-demethylase 
PLoS Neglected Tropical Diseases  2015;9(3):e0003588.
Leishmania protozoan parasites (Trypanosomatidae family) are the causative agents of cutaneous, mucocutaneous and visceral leishmaniasis worldwide. While these diseases are associated with significant morbidity and mortality, there are few adequate treatments available. Sterol 14alpha-demethylase (CYP51) in the parasite sterol biosynthesis pathway has been the focus of considerable interest as a novel drug target in Leishmania. However, its essentiality in Leishmania donovani has yet to be determined. Here, we use a dual biological and pharmacological approach to demonstrate that CYP51 is indispensable in L. donovani. We show via a facilitated knockout approach that chromosomal CYP51 genes can only be knocked out in the presence of episomal complementation and that this episome cannot be lost from the parasite even under negative selection. In addition, we treated wild-type L. donovani and CYP51-deficient strains with 4-aminopyridyl-based inhibitors designed specifically for Trypanosoma cruzi CYP51. While potency was lower than in T. cruzi, these inhibitors had increased efficacy in parasites lacking a CYP51 allele compared to complemented parasites, indicating inhibition of parasite growth via a CYP51-specific mechanism and confirming essentiality of CYP51 in L. donovani. Overall, these results provide support for further development of CYP51 inhibitors for the treatment of visceral leishmaniasis.
Author Summary
Visceral leishmaniasis is the second most lethal parasitic infection after malaria. Other forms of leishmaniasis also cause significant morbidity. However, there are few treatments available, and many cause severe side effects or are associated with the development of resistance. A key difference between mammalian cells and Leishmania parasites is the type of sterol in their membranes: while mammalian cell membranes contain cholesterol, Leishmania parasites use ergosterol. There has therefore been considerable interest in developing inhibitors of sterol biosynthesis pathways to target Leishmania parasites. Sterol 14alpha-demethylase (CYP51) is one of the enzymes in the sterol biosynthesis pathway, and the target of significant drug development research in Leishmania. Here we use a double approach to determine whether this gene is essential in Leishmania donovani, the causative agent of visceral leishmaniasis. We demonstrate via gene knockout and drug targeting approaches that loss or inhibition of CYP51 inhibits L. donovani growth. These results validate CYP51 as a drug target in L. donovani and support further work to develop CYP51-directed therapies for visceral leishmaniasis.
PMCID: PMC4359151  PMID: 25768284
22.  The Crystal Structures of the Tryparedoxin-Tryparedoxin Peroxidase Couple Unveil the Structural Determinants of Leishmania Detoxification Pathway 
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.
Author Summary
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.
PMCID: PMC3424247  PMID: 22928053
23.  Diverse modes of binding in structures of Leishmania major N-myristoyltransferase with selective inhibitors 
IUCrJ  2014;1(Pt 4):250-260.
Crystal structures of N-myristoyltransferase with four distinct Leishmania-selective small-molecule inhibitors identify key binding-site residues and suggest strategies to design compounds with increased affinity.
The leishmaniases are a spectrum of global diseases of poverty associated with immune dysfunction and are the cause of high morbidity. Despite the long history of these diseases, no effective vaccine is available and the currently used drugs are variously compromised by moderate efficacy, complex side effects and the emergence of resistance. It is therefore widely accepted that new therapies are needed. N-Myristoyltransferase (NMT) has been validated pre-clinically as a target for the treatment of fungal and parasitic infections. In a previously reported high-throughput screening program, a number of hit compounds with activity against NMT from Leishmania donovani have been identified. Here, high-resolution crystal structures of representative compounds from four hit series in ternary complexes with myristoyl-CoA and NMT from the closely related L. major are reported. The structures reveal that the inhibitors associate with the peptide-binding groove at a site adjacent to the bound myristoyl-CoA and the catalytic α-carboxylate of Leu421. Each inhibitor makes extensive apolar contacts as well as a small number of polar contacts with the protein. Remarkably, the compounds exploit different features of the peptide-binding groove and collectively occupy a substantial volume of this pocket, suggesting that there is potential for the design of chimaeric inhibitors with significantly enhanced binding. Despite the high conservation of the active sites of the parasite and human NMTs, the inhibitors act selectively over the host enzyme. The role of conformational flexibility in the side chain of Tyr217 in conferring selectivity is discussed.
PMCID: PMC4107925  PMID: 25075346
N-myristoyltransferase; inhibitor; ligand binding; Leishmania; drug discovery
24.  First Three-Dimensional Structure of Toxoplasma gondii thymidylate synthase-dihydrofolate reductase: Insights for Catalysis, Interdomain Interactions, and Substrate Channeling 
Biochemistry  2013;52(41):7305-7317.
Most species, such as humans, have monofunctional forms of thymidylate synthase (TS) and dihydrofolate reductase (DHFR) that are key folate metabolism enzymes making critical folate components required for DNA synthesis. In contrast, several parasitic protozoa, including Toxoplasma gondii, contain a unique bifunctional thymidylate synthase-dihydrofolate reductase (TS-DHFR) having the catalytic activities contained on a single polypeptide chain. The prevalence of T. gondii infection across the world, especially for those immunocompromised, underscores the need to understand TS-DHFR enzyme function and to find new avenues to exploit for the design of novel antiparasitic drugs. As a first step, we have solved the first three-dimensional structures of T. gondii TS-DHFR at 3.7 Å and of a loop truncated TS-DHFR, removing several flexible surface loops in the DHFR domain, improving resolution to 2.2 Å. Distinct structural features of the TS-DHFR homodimer include a junctional region containing a kinked crossover helix between the DHFR domains of the two adjacent monomers, a long linker connecting the TS and DHFR domains, and a DHFR domain that is positively charged. The roles of these unique structural features were probed by site-directed mutagenesis coupled with pre-steady state and steady state kinetics. Mutational analysis of the crossover helix region combined with kinetic characterization established the importance of this region not only in DHFR catalysis but also in modulating the distal TS activity, suggesting a role for TS-DHFR interdomain interactions. Additional kinetic studies revealed that substrate channeling occurs in which dihydrofolate is directly transferred from the TS to DHFR active site without entering bulk solution. The crystal structure suggests that the positively charged DHFR domain governs this electrostatically mediated movement of dihydrofolate, preventing release from the enzyme. Taken together, these structural and kinetic studies reveal unique, functional regions on the T. gondii TS-DHFR enzyme that may targeted for inhibition, thus paving the way for designing species specific inhibitors.
PMCID: PMC3905773  PMID: 24053355
thymidylate synthase; dihydrofolate reductase; transient kinetics; toxoplasmosis; domain communication; substrate channeling
25.  A gold-containing drug against parasitic polyamine metabolism: the X-ray structure of trypanothione reductase from Leishmania infantum in complex with auranofin reveals a dual mechanism of enzyme inhibition 
Amino Acids  2011;42(2-3):803-811.
Auranofin is a gold(I)-containing drug in clinical use as an antiarthritic agent. Recent studies showed that auranofin manifests interesting antiparasitic actions very likely arising from inhibition of parasitic enzymes involved in the control of the redox metabolism. Trypanothione reductase is a key enzyme of Leishmania infantum polyamine-dependent redox metabolism, and a validated target for antileishmanial drugs. As trypanothione reductase contains a dithiol motif at its active site and gold(I) compounds are known to be highly thiophilic, we explored whether auranofin might behave as an effective enzyme inhibitor and as a potential antileishmanial agent. Notably, enzymatic assays revealed that auranofin causes indeed a pronounced enzyme inhibition. To gain a deeper insight into the molecular basis of enzyme inhibition, crystals of the auranofin-bound enzyme, in the presence of NADPH, were prepared, and the X-ray crystal structure of the auranofin–trypanothione reductase–NADPH complex was solved at 3.5 Å resolution. In spite of the rather low resolution, these data were of sufficient quality as to identify the presence of the gold center and of the thiosugar of auranofin, and to locate them within the overall protein structure. Gold binds to the two active site cysteine residues of TR, i.e. Cys52 and Cys57, while the thiosugar moiety of auranofin binds to the trypanothione binding site; thus auranofin appears to inhibit TR through a dual mechanism. Auranofin kills the promastigote stage of L. infantum at micromolar concentration; these findings will contribute to the design of new drugs against leishmaniasis.
PMCID: PMC3266496  PMID: 21833767
Gold; Auranofin; Leishmania; Trypanothione reductase

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