Plasmepsins IX and X are essential and druggable mediators of malaria parasite egress and invasion

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Science  27 Oct 2017:
Vol. 358, Issue 6362, pp. 518-522
DOI: 10.1126/science.aan1478

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Plasmodium parasite entrance and exit

Sweats and fever are the hallmarks of malaria. Red blood cells are the replication factories for malaria parasites. Fever occurs when the parasites' merozoite stages burst en masse from red blood cells into the circulation. Nasamu et al. and Pino et al. discovered that two parasite proteases, plasmepsin IX and X, are essential for mass cell exit (see the Perspective by Boddey). Plasmepsin X is also used by the merozoites to enter a fresh red blood cell to continue the replicative cycle. These two plasmepsins act by regulating the maturation of enzymes required to disrupt host cell membranes. Because these functions are essential for the parasite, the authors used protease inhibitors to show that plasmepsins provide potential drug targets.

Science, this issue p. 518, p. 522; see also p. 445


Proteases of the malaria parasite Plasmodium falciparum have long been investigated as drug targets. The P. falciparum genome encodes 10 aspartic proteases called plasmepsins, which are involved in diverse cellular processes. Most have been studied extensively but the functions of plasmepsins IX and X (PMIX and PMX) were unknown. Here we show that PMIX is essential for erythrocyte invasion, acting on rhoptry secretory organelle biogenesis. In contrast, PMX is essential for both egress and invasion, controlling maturation of the subtilisin-like serine protease SUB1 in exoneme secretory vesicles. We have identified compounds with potent antimalarial activity targeting PMX, including a compound known to have oral efficacy in a mouse model of malaria.

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