There is a high demand for new drugs against malaria, which takes millions of lives annually. The abuse of classical antimalarials from the late 1940's to the early 1980's has bred resistant parasites, which led to the use of more potent drugs that ended up by refueling the resistance cycle. An example is chloroquine, once highly effective but now virtually useless against malaria.
Structure-based rational drug design relies on high-resolution target structures to allow for screening of selective ligands/inhibitors. For the past two decades, and especially after the unveiling of the Plasmodium falciparum genome in 2002, enzymes of this lethal malaria parasite species have been increasingly attracting the attention of Medicinal Chemists worldwide as promising drug targets. There is particular emphasis on proteases having key roles on the degradation of host's hemoglobin within the food vacuole of blood-stage parasites, as these depend on such process for their survival. Among such enzymes, Plasmepsins (aspartic proteases) and, especially, Falcipains (cysteine proteases) are highly promising antimalarial drug targets. The present review will focus on the computational approaches made so far towards the unraveling of the structure, function and inhibition of Falcipains that, by virtue of their quite specific features, are excellent targets for highly selective inhibitors.
Keywords: Cysteine proteases, drug design, falcipain inhibitors, falcipains, malaria, Plasmodium Falciparum, classical antimalarials, resistant parasites, chloroquine
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