Malaria is caused by several species of Plasmodium. The deadliest species, Plasmodium falciparum, has gained resistance to all currently available treatment.
The Plasmodium parasite species contain a plastid known as the apicoplast. Dr. Vasant Muralidharan and his lab have been seeking to understand the role of this organelle in the survival of the Plasmodium parasite in hopes of discovering new drug targets.
“The plastid is present only in the parasite and not in human cells, and therefore drugs targeting plastid proteins specifically kill the parasite,” said Dr. Anat Florentin, a postdoctoral research associate in the Muralidharan lab.
The lab has discovered a protease complex that regulates the lifespan of proteins in the apicoplast. When they interfered with the activity of this protease complex, P. falciparum parasites died because the parasites lost the apicoplast.
“Targeting this protease complex with a drug will lead to a more efficient inhibition of plastid biology and this makes it an excellent antimalarial drug candidate.” said Muralidharan.