Pathogenic protozoa threaten lives of several hundred million people throughout the world and are responsible for large numbers of deaths globally. The parasites are transmitted to humans by insect vectors, more than a hundred of infected mammalian species forming reservoir. With human migrations, HIV-coinfections, and blood bank contamination the diseases are now spreading beyond the endemic tropical countries, being found in all parts of the world including the USA, Canada and Europe. In spite of the widely appreciated magnitude of this health problem, current treatment for sleeping sickness (Trypanosoma brucei), Chagas disease (Trypanosoma cruzi) and leishmaniasis (Leishmania spp.) remains unsatisfactory. The drugs are decades old, their efficacy and safety profiles are unacceptable. This review describes sterol 14α-demethylase, an essential enzyme in sterol biosynthesis in eukaryotes and clinical target for antifungal azoles, as a promising target for antiprotozoan chemotherapy. While several antifungal azoles have been proven active against Trypanosomatidae and are under consideration as antiprotozoan agents, crystal structures of sterol 14α-demethylases from three protozoan pathogens, Trypanosoma brucei, Trypanosoma cruzi and Leishmania infantum provide the basis for the development of new, highly potent and pathogen-specific drugs with rationally optimized pharmacological properties.
Antiprotozoan chemotherapy; crystal structure; enzyme inhibitors; leishmaniasis; sterol 14alpha-demethylase (CYP51); sterol biosynthesis; trypanosomiasis
Sterol 14α-demethylases (14DM) comprise the CYP51 cytochrome P450 genome family. The 14DM reaction is essential for the biosynthesis of sterols which are necessary for production of cellular membranes. This is the most widely distributed P450, being present in all biological kingdoms. From one kingdom to another the primary amino acid sequence identity usually ranges between 30-20%. In this minireview we describe the conservation of specific amino acids and the various CYP51 orthologs and indicate the roles that they may play in the structure/function of this monooxygenase. The prediction of the roles of different amino acids in 14DM is based on high resolution tertiary structures of these enzymes which set the stage for detailed understanding of the 14α-demethylase reaction and its selective, phyla-specific inhibition which is crucial for the design of potent inhibitors for treatment of infection by pathogenic microbes.
cytochrome P450; sterol 14α-demethylase; CYP51; crystal structure
The cytochrome P540 (CYP) superfamily currently includes about 9,000 proteins forming more than 800 families. The enzymes catalyze monooxygenation of a vast array of compounds and play essentially two roles. They provide biodefense (detoxification of xenobiotics, antibiotic production) and participate in biosynthesis of important endogenous molecules, particularly steroids. Based on these two roles, sterol 14|*alpha*|-demethylases (CYP51) belong to the second group of P450s. The CYP51 family, however, is very special as its members preserve strict functional conservation in enzyme activity in all biological kingdoms. At amino acid identity across the kingdoms as low as 25–30%, they all catalyze essentially the same three-step reaction of oxidative removal of the 14|*alpha*|-methyl group from the lanostane frame. This reaction is the required step in sterol biosynthesis of pathogenic microbes. We have shown that specific inhibition of protozoan CYP51 can potentially provide treatment for human trypanosomiases. Three sets of CYP51 inhibitors tested in vitro and in trypanosomal cells in this study include azoles [best results being 50% cell growth inhibition at <1 and at 1.3 µM for Trypanosoma cruzi (TC) and Trypanosoma brucei (TB), respectively], non-azole compounds (50% TC cell growth inhibition at 5 µM) and substrate analogs of the 14|*alpha*|-demethylase reaction. 32-Methylene cyclopropyl lanost-7-enol exhibited selectivity toward TC with 50% cell growth inhibition at 3 µM.
Cytochrome P450 (CYP51); Sterol biosynthesis; Sterol 14α-demethylase; Enzymatic activity; Inhibition; Sleeping sickness; Chagas disease; Antifungal agents; Antitrypanosomal drugs
CYP51 (sterol 14α-demethylase) is a cytochrome P450 enzyme essential for sterol biosynthesis and the primary target for clinical and agricultural antifungal azoles. The azoles that are currently in clinical use for systemic fungal infections represent modifications of two basic scaffolds, ketoconazole and fluconazole, all of them being selected based on their antiparasitic activity in cellular experiments. By studying direct inhibition of CYP51 activity across phylogeny including human pathogens Trypanosoma brucei, Trypanosoma cruzi and Leishmania infantum, we identified three novel protozoa-specific inhibitory scaffolds, their inhibitory potency correlating well with antiprotozoan activity. VNI scaffold (carboxamide containing β-phenyl-imidazoles) is the most promising among them: killing T. cruzi amastigotes at low nanomolar concentration, it is also easy to synthesize and nontoxic. Oral administration of VNI (up to 400 mg/kg) neither leads to mortality nor reveals significant side effects up to 48 h post treatment using an experimental mouse model of acute toxicity. Trypanosomatidae CYP51 crystal structures determined in the ligand-free state and complexed with several azole inhibitors as well as a substrate analog revealed high rigidity of the CYP51 substrate binding cavity, which must be essential for the enzyme strict substrate specificity and functional conservation. Explaining profound potency of the VNI inhibitory scaffold, the structures also outline guidelines for its further development. First steps of the VNI scaffold optimization have been undertaken; the results presented here support the notion that CYP51 structure-based rational design of more efficient, pathogen-specific inhibitors represents a highly promising direction.
Sterol 14α-demethylase; CYP51; Inhibition; Crystal structure
Chagas disease, caused by the protozoan pathogen Trypanosoma cruzi, remains a challenging infection due to the unavailability of safe and efficacious drugs. Inhibitors of the trypanosome sterol 14α-demethylase enzyme (CYP51), including azole antifungal drugs, are promising candidates for development as anti-Chagas disease drugs. Posaconazole is under clinical investigation for Chagas disease, although the high cost of this drug may limit its widespread use. We have previously reported that the human protein farnesyltransferase (PFT) inhibitor tipifarnib has potent anti-T. cruzi activity by inhibiting the CYP51 enzyme. Furthermore, we have developed analogs that minimize the PFT-inhibitory activity and enhance the CYP51 inhibition. In this paper, we describe the efficacy of the lead tipifarnib analog compared to that of posaconazole in a murine model of T. cruzi infection. The plasma exposure profiles for each compound following a single oral dose in mice and estimated exposure parameters after repeated twice-daily dosing for 20 days are also presented. The lead tipifarnib analog had potent suppressive activity on parasitemia in mice but was unsuccessful at curing mice, whereas posaconazole as well as benznidazole cured 3 of 5 and 4 of 6 mice, respectively. The efficacy results are consistent with posaconazole having substantially higher predicted exposure than that of the tipifarnib analog after repeat twice-daily administration. Further changes to the tipifarnib analogs to reduce plasma clearance are therefore likely to be important. A crystal structure of a trypanosomal CYP51 bound to a tipifarnib analog is reported here and provides new insights to guide structure-based drug design for further optimized compounds.
Trypanosoma brucei is the protozoan parasite that causes African trypanosomiasis, a neglected disease of people and animals. Co-metabolite analysis, labelling studies using [methyl-2H3]-methionine and substrate/product specificities of the cloned 24-SMT (sterol C24-methyltransferase) and 14-SDM (sterol C14-demethylase) from T. brucei afforded an uncommon sterol metabolic network that proceeds from lanosterol and 31-norlanosterol to ETO [ergosta-5,7,25(27)-trien-3β-ol], 24-DTO [dimethyl ergosta-5,7,25(27)-trienol] and ergosterol [ergosta-5,7,22(23)-trienol]. To assess the possible carbon sources of ergosterol biosynthesis, specifically 13C-labelled specimens of lanosterol, acetate, leucine and glucose were administered to T. brucei and the 13C distributions found were in accord with the operation of the acetate–mevalonate pathway, with leucine as an alternative precursor, to ergostenols in either the insect or bloodstream form. In searching for metabolic signatures of procyclic cells, we observed that the 13C-labelling treatments induce fluctuations between the acetyl-CoA (mitochondrial) and sterol (cytosolic) synthetic pathways detected by the progressive increase in 13C-ergosterol production (control <[2-13C]leucine<[2-13C]acetate<[1-13C]glucose) and corresponding depletion of cholesta-5,7,24-trienol. We conclude that anabolic fluxes originating in mitochondrial metabolism constitute a flexible part of sterol synthesis that is further fluctuated in the cytosol, yielding distinct sterol profiles in relation to cell demands on growth.
[1-13C]glucose; ergosterol biosynthesis; sterol C24-methyltransferase; sterol C14-demethylase; Trypanosoma brucei; trypanosome
There are at least two obvious features that must be considered upon targeting specific metabolic pathways/enzymes for drug development: the pathway must be essential and the enzyme must allow the design of pharmacologically useful inhibitors. Here, we describe Trypanosoma cruzi sterol 14α-demethylase as a promising target for anti-Chagasic chemotherapy. The use of anti-fungal azoles, which block sterol biosynthesis and therefore membrane formation in fungi, against the protozoan parasite has turned out to be highly successful: a broad spectrum anti-fungal drug, the triazole compound posaconazole, is now entering phase II clinical trials for treatment of Chagas disease. This review summarizes comparative information on anti-fungal azoles and novel inhibitory scaffolds selective for Trypanosomatidae sterol 14α-demethylase through the lens of recent structure/functional characterization of the target enzyme. We believe our studies open wide opportunities for rational design of novel, pathogen-specific and therefore more potent and efficient anti-trypanosomal drugs.
A cysteine was introduced into the FG-loop (P187C) of CYP51 from Mycobacterium tuberculosis (MT) for selective labeling with BODIPY and fluorescence energy transfer (FRET) analysis. Forster radius for the BODIPY-heme pair was calculated assuming that the distance between the heme and Cys187 in solution corresponds to that in the crystal structure of ligand free MTCYP51. Interaction of MTCYP51 with azole inhibitors ketoconazole and fluconazole or the substrate analog estriol did not influence the fluorescence, but titration with the substrate lanosterol quenched BODIPY emission, the effect being proportional to the portion of substrate-bound MTCYP51. The detected changes correspond to ~10 Å decrease in the calculated distance between BODIPY-Cys187 and the heme. The results confirm 1) functional importance of conformational motions in the MTCYP51 F/G segment and 2) applicability of FRET to monitor them in solution.
Cytochrome P450; sterol 14α-demethylase; ligand binding; conformational changes; FRET
Trypanosoma cruzi (TC) causes Chagas disease, which in its chronic stage remains incurable. We have shown recently that specific inhibition of TC sterol 14α-demethylase (TCCYP51) with imidazole derivatives is effective in killing both extracellular and intracellular human stages of TC. An alternative set of TCCYP51 inhibitors has been identified using optical high throughput screening followed by web-database search for similar structures. The best TCCYP51 inhibitor from this search was found to have structural similarity to a class of cyclooxygenase-2-selective inhibitors, the indomethacin-amides. A number of indomethacin-amides were found to bind to TCCYP51, inhibit its activity in vitro and produce strong antiparasitic effects in the cultured TC cells. Analysis of TC sterol composition indicated that the mode of action of the compounds is by inhibition of sterol biosynthesis in the parasite.
The genome sequence of the giant virus Acanthamoeba polyphaga mimivirus revealed the presence of two putative cytochrome P450 (CYP) genes. The product of one of the two predicted CYP genes (YP_143162) showed low-level homology to sterol 14-demethylase (CYP51) and contained a C-terminal polypeptide domain of unknown function. YP_143162 expression (without an N-terminal membrane binding domain) in Escherichia coli yields a CYP protein which gives a reduced CO difference maximum at 448 nm and was formally demonstrated as the first viral cytochrome P450. Analysis of binding of lipid and sterol substrates indicated no perturbation in CYP heme environment, and an absence of activity was seen when 14-methyl sterols were used as a substrate. The function of the CYP protein and its C-terminal domain remain unknown.
Chagas disease is one of the major neglected diseases of the world. Existing drug therapies are limited, ineffective and highly toxic. We describe a novel strategy of drug discovery of adapting an existing clinical compound with excellent pharmaceutical properties to target a pathogenic organism. The protein farnesyltransferase (PFT) inhibitor tipifarnib, now in phase III anti-cancer clinical trials, was previously found to kill Trypanosoma cruzi by blocking sterol 14α-demethylase (14DM). We rationally developed tipifarnib analogs that display reduced affinity for human PFT to reduce toxicity, while increasing affinity for parasite 14DM. The lead compound has picomolar activity against cultured T. cruzi and is efficacious in a mouse model of acute Chagas disease.
Sterol 14α-demethylases (CYP51) serve as primary targets for antifungal drugs and specific inhibition of CYP51s in protozoan parasites Trypanosoma brucei (TB) and Trypanosoma cruzi (TC) might provide an effective treatment strategy for human trypanosomiases. Primary inhibitor selection is based initially on the cytochrome P450 spectral response to ligand binding. Ligands which demonstrate strongest binding parameters were examined as inhibitors of reconstituted TB and TC CYP51 activity in vitro. Direct correlation between potency of the compounds as CYP51 inhibitors and their antiparasitic effect in TB and TC cells implies essential requirements for endogenous sterol production in both trypanosomes and suggests a novel lead structure with a defined region most promising for further modifications. The approach developed here can be used for further large-scale search for new CYP51 inhibitors.
The CYP51 family is an intriguing subject for fundamental P450 structure/function studies and is also an important clinical drug target. This review updates information on the variety of the CYP51 family members, including their physiological roles, natural substrates and substrate preferences, and catalytic properties in vitro. We present experimental support for the notion that specific conserved regions in the P450 sequences represent a CYP51 signature. Two possible roles of CYP51 in P450 evolution are discussed and the major approaches for CYP51 inhibition are summarized.
sterol 14α-demethylase (CYP51); sterol biosynthesis; substrate preferences; catalytic activity; inhibition