New class of small nonpeptidyl compounds blocks Plasmodium falciparum development in vitro by inhibiting plasmepsins

S. Jiang, S. T. Prigge, L. Wei, Y. E. Gao, T. H. Hudson, L. Gerena, J. B. Dame, D. E. Kyle

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


Malarial parasites rely on aspartic proteases called plasmepsins to digest hemoglobin during the intraerythrocytic stage. Plasmepsins from Plasmodium falciparum and Plasmodium vivax have been cloned and expressed for a variety of structural and enzymatic studies. Recombinant plasmepsins possess kinetic similarity to the native enzymes, indicating their suitability for target-based antimalarial drug development. We developed an automated assay of P. falciparum plasmepsin II and P. vivax plasmepsin to quickly screen compounds in the Walter Reed chemical database. A low-molecular-mass (346 Da) diphenylurea derivative (WR268961) was found to inhibit plasmepsins with a Ki of 1 to 6 μM. This compound appears to be selective for plasmepsin, since it is a poor inhibitor of the human aspartic protease cathepsin D (Ki greater than 280 μM). WR268961 inhibited the growth of P. falciparum strains W2 and D6, with 50% inhibitory concentrations ranging from 0.03 to 0.16 μg/ml, but was much less toxic to mammalian cells. The Walter Reed chemical database contains over 1,500 compounds with a diphenylurea core structure, 9 of which inhibit the plasmepsins, with Ki values ranging from 0.05 to 0.68 μM. These nine compounds show specificity for the plasmepsins over human cathepsin D, but they are poor inhibitors of P. falciparum growth in vitro. Computational docking experiments indicate how diphenylurea compounds bind to the plasmepsin active site and inhibit the enzyme.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)2577-2584
Number of pages8
JournalAntimicrobial agents and chemotherapy
Issue number9
StatePublished - 2001
Externally publishedYes

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Pharmacology
  • Pharmacology (medical)
  • Infectious Diseases


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