Apicomplexa are unicellular, obligate intracellular parasites of great medical importance. They include human pathogens like Plasmodium spp., the causative agent of malaria, and Toxoplasma gondii, an opportunistic parasite of immunosuppressed individuals and a common cause of congenital disease (toxoplasmosis). They alone affect several hundred million people worldwide so that new drugs, especially for plasmodial infections, are urgently needed. This review will focus on a recently emerged, potential drug target, a plant-type redox system consisting of ferredoxin- NADP+ reductase (FNR) and its redox partner, ferredoxin (Fd). Both reside in an unique organelle of these parasites, named apicoplast, which is of algal origin. The apicoplast has been shown to be required for pathogen survival. In addition to other pathways already identified in this compartment, the FNR/Fd redox system represents a promising drug target because homologous proteins are not present in host organisms. Furthermore, a wealth of structural information exists on the closely related plant proteins, which can be exploited for structure-function studies of the apicomplexan protein pair. T. gondii and P. falciparum FNRs have been cloned, and the T. gondii enzyme was shown to be a flavoprotein active as a NADPH-dependent oxidoreductase. Both phylogenetic and biochemical analyses indicate that T. gondii FNR is similar in function to the isoform present in non-photosynthetic plastids whereby electron flow is from NADPH to oxidized Fd. The resulting reduced Fd is then presumably used as a reductant for various target enzymes whose nature is just starting to emerge. Among the likely candidates is the iron-sulfur cluster biosynthesis pathway, which is also located in the apicoplast and dependent on reducing power. Furthermore, lipoic acid synthase and enzymes of the isoprenoid biosynthetic pathway may be other conceivable targets. Since all these metabolic steps are vital for the parasite, blocking electron flow from FNR to Fd by inhibition of either FNR activity or its molecular interaction with Fd should also interfere with these pathways, ultimately killing the parasite. Although the three-dimensional structure of FNR from T. gondii is not yet known, experimental and computational evidence shows that apicomplexan and plant enzymes are very similar in structure. Furthermore, single amino acid changes can have profound effects on the enzyme activity and affinity for Fd. This knowledge may be exploited for the design of inhibitors of protein-protein interaction. On the other hand, specifically tailored NAD(P) analogues or mimetics based on previously described substances might be useful lead compounds for apicomplexan FNR inhibitors.
toxoplasma gondii, plasmodium falciparum, apicoplast, drug target, ferredoxin redox system, ferredoxin-nadp reductase
FB Biologie/Parasitologie, Philipps-Universitat Marburg, Karl-von-Frisch-Str., 35032 Marburg, Germany.