New drug targets for the development of antimalarial drugs have emerged after the unveiling of the Plasmodium
falciparum genome in 2002. Potential antimalarial drug targets can be broadly classified into three categories according
to their function in the parasite’s life cycle: (i) biosynthesis, (ii) membrane transport and signaling, and (iii) hemoglobin
catabolism. The latter plays a key role, as inhibition of hemoglobin degradation impairs maturation of bloodstage
malaria parasites, ultimately leading to remission or even cure of the most severe stage of the infection. Intraerythrocytic
Plasmodia parasites have limited capacity to biosynthesize amino acids which are vital for their growth. Therefore,
the parasites obtain those essential amino acids via degradation of host cell hemoglobin, making this a crucial process for
parasite survival. Several plasmodial proteases are involved in hemoglobin catabolism, among which plasmepsins and falcipains
are well-known examples. Hence, development of P. falciparum protease inhibitors is a promising approach to antimalarial
chemotherapy, as highlighted by the present review which is focused on the Medicinal Chemistry research effort
recorded in the past decade in this particular field.
Keywords: Plasmodium falciparum, hemoglobin catabolism, plasmepsin, falcipain, falcilysin, aminopeptidase, proteases, antimalarial.
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