Malaria, a disease caused by protozoan parasites of the genus Plasmodium, is one of the most dangerous infectious diseases, claiming millions of lives and infecting hundreds of millions of people annually. The pressing need for new antimalarials has been answered by the discovery of new drug targets from the malaria genome project. One of the early findings was the discovery of two genes encoding Type II fatty acid biosynthesis proteins: ACP (acyl carrier protein) and KASIII (β-ketoacyl-ACP synthase III). The initiating steps of a Type II system require a third protein: malonyl-coenzyme A:ACP transacylase (MCAT). Here we report the identification of a single gene from P. falciparum encoding pfMCAT and the functional characterization of this enzyme. Pure recombinant pfMCAT catalyzes malonyl transfer from malonyl-coenzyme A (malonyl-CoA) to pfACP. In contrast, pfACPtrans, a construct of pfACP containing an amino-terminal apicoplast transit peptide, was not a substrate for pfMCAT. The product of the pfMCAT reaction, malonyl-pfACP, is a substrate for pfKASIII, which catalyzes the decarboxylative condensation of malonyl-pfACP and various acyl-CoAs. Consistent with a role in de novo fatty acid biosynthesis, pfKASIII exhibited typical KAS (β-ketoacyl ACP synthase) activity using acetyl-CoA as substrate (kcat 230 min-1, KM 17.9 ± 3.4 μM). The pfKASIII can also catalyze the condensation of malonyl-pfACP and butyryl-CoA (kcat 200 min-1, KM 35.7 ± 4.4 μM) with similar efficiency, whereas isobutyryl-CoA is a poor substrate and displayed 13-fold less activity than that observed for acetyl-CoA. The pfKASIII has little preference for malonyl-pfACP (kcat/KM 64.9 min-1 μM-1) over E. coli malonyl-ACP (kcat/KM 44.8 min-1μM-1). The pfKASIII also catalyzes the acyl-CoA:ACP transacylase (ACAT) reaction typically exhibited by KASIII enzymes, but does so almost 700-fold slower than the KAS reaction. Thiolactomycin did not inhbit pfKASIII (IC50 > 330 μM), but three structurally similar substituted 1,2-dithiole-3-one compounds did inhibit pfKASIII with IC50 values between 0.53 μM and 10.4 μM. These compounds also inhibited the growth of P. falciparum in culture.
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