Malaria, the most important of the human parasitic diseases, causes about 500 million infections worldwide and over 1 million deaths every year. The search for novel drug candidates against specific parasitic targets is an important goal for antimalarial drug discovery. Recently the antimalarial activity of chalcones has generated great interest. These compounds are small non-chiral molecules with relative high lipophilicity (clogP ∼ 5-7), have molecular weights in the range of 300 to 600 g/mol, and possess in vivo efficacy against both P. berghei and P. yeolii. Preliminary data on our ongoing chalcone synthesis project indicate that these compounds are active in vitro against P. falciparum, but are rapidly metabolized in liver microsome assays. Structurally-related compounds not including the enone linker are found to be much more metabolically stable and yet have comparable in vitro efficacy. In this study, we have utilized the efficacy data from an in-house on-going chalcone project to develop a 3D pharmacophore for antimalarial activity and used it to conduct virtual screening (in silico search) of a chemical library which resulted in identification of several potent chalconelike antimalarials. The pharmacophore is found to contain an aromatic and an aliphatic hydrophobic site, one hydrogen bond donor site, and a ring aromatic feature distributed over a 3D space. The identified compounds were not only found to be potent in vitro against several drug resistant and susceptible strains of P. falciparum and have better metabolic stability, but included one with good in vivo efficacy in a mouse model of malaria.
Keywords: In silico 3D pharmacophore, virtual screening, malaria, chalcone, design, novel antimalarial agents, quantitative structure activity relationship (QSAR)
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