Theories on malarial pigment formation and quinoline action

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Haeme metabolism remains a vulnerable problem for the intraerythrocytic Plasmodium which catabolises haemoglobin as a source of amino acids in an acidic, oxygen-rich lysosome-like digestive vacuole. Haeme monomer, capable of generating oxygen radicals, transforms into an inert crystal named malarial pigment or haemozoin by forming unique dimers that then crystalise. Laveran first described pigmented bodies in humans to define a protozoan as the aetiologic agent of malaria. The trail of malaria pigment enabled Ross to implicate the mosquito in the life cycle of Plasmodium. In 1991, Slater and Cerami postulated a unique iron-carboxylate bond between two haemes in haemozoin crystals based on infrared and X-ray spectroscopy data. Additionally, parasite extracts were shown to possess a 'haeme polymerase' enzymatic activity as the process of crystal formation was then termed. Importantly, the quinolines, such as choloroquine, inhibit haemozoin formation. A Plasmodium falciparum derived histidine-rich protein II, which binds haeme and initiates haemozoin formation, is present in the digestive vacuole. Pfhistidine-rich protein II and Pfhistidine-rich protein III are sufficient, but not necessary for haemozoin formation as a laboratory clone lacking both still makes the haeme crystals. The reduvid bug, and the Schistosoma and Haemoproteus genera also make haemozoin. Recently, Bohle and coworkers used X-ray diffraction to document the iron-carboxylate bond in intact desiccated parasites and to show that a Fe1-O41 head to tail haeme dimer is the unit building block of haemozoin. The role of the Plasmodium histidine-rich protein family members, lipids or potential novel proteins in the exact molecular assembly of the large molecular weight haeme crystals in the protein rich digestive vacuole needs to be solved. Accurate experimental determination of the role of haemozoin formation and inhibition as the target of chloroquine is fundamental to determination of the mechanism of quinoline drug action and resistance. The enhanced understanding of the biosynthetic pathway leading to haemozoin formation using functional proteomic tools and the mechanisms through which existing antimalarial drugs affect Plasmodium haeme chemistry will help design improved chaemotherapeutic agents.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)1645-1653
Number of pages9
JournalInternational Journal for Parasitology
Issue number13
StatePublished - Dec 4 2002


  • Chloroquine
  • Haeme
  • Haemoproteus
  • Haemozoin
  • Plasmodium falciparum
  • Schistosoma
  • β-haematin

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Parasitology
  • Infectious Diseases


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