For many years, the purine salvage pathway of parasitic protozoa has been regarded as an attractive chemotherapeutic target. Parasitic protozoa lack de novo synthesis and rely entirely on the purine salvage pathway to meet their purine demands. Because of the great phylogenetic difference between parasite and host, there are often sufficient distinctions that can be exploited to design specific inhibitors for the parasitic enzymes. As a result, this pathway has been thoroughly investigated over the last twenty years. It is only quite recently that the genome studies of Trypanosoma, Leishmania and Plasmodium have been published. Based on these genomic data however, the existence of by-pass mechanisms by other enzymes and transporter systems could be suggested. Taking into account such proposition, the question might arise as to whether inhibition of a single salvage enzyme will be able or not to cause parasite death or growth arrest. In this paper, the key enzymes in the purine salvage pathways of relevant pathogenic species from the genera Trypanosoma, Leishmania and Plasmodium are reviewed. Their potential as drug targets is critically evaluated and where possible, correlated to literature data on antiparasitic activity of their inhibitors. While many studies over the past ten years have yielded contradictory results, this review attempts to clarify these findings by discussing the latest elements of progress in the field. Additionally, as part of a broader discussion on substrate analogue types of inhibitors, special attention is paid to iminoribitol derivatives, serving as transition state analogues of nucleoside-processing enzymes and comprising the most potent inhibitors reported for purine salvage enzymes. More specifically, the development of three generations of immucillins and a newer series of N-(arylmethyl-) substituted iminoribitol derivatives will be discussed. Finally, this review also covers subversive substrates of salvage enzymes: compounds that are transformed by enzymatic activity into cytotoxic agents. Although not by directly intervening in the process of purine recovery, the subversive substrate approach might deliver antiprotozoal compounds that rely on salvage enzymes for their activity.
Keywords: Purine salvage pathway, parasitic protozoa, Trypanosoma, Leishmania, Plasmodium, inhibitors, iminoribitols, nucleoside hydrolase
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