The treatment for both leishmaniasis and trypanosomiasis, which are severe human infections caused by trypanosomatids belonging to Leishmania and Trypanosoma genera, respectively, is extremely limited because of concerns of toxicity and efficacy with the available anti-protozoan drugs, as well as the emergence of drug resistance. Consequently, the urgency for the discovery of new trypanosomatid targets and novel bioactive compounds is particularly necessary. In this context, the investigation of changes in parasite gene expression between drug resistant/sensitive strains and in the up-regulation of virulence-related genes in infective forms has brought to the fore the involvement of calpain-like proteins in several crucial pathophysiological processes performed by trypanosomatids. These studies were encouraged by the publication of the complete genome sequences of three human pathogenic trypanosomatids, Trypanosoma brucei, Trypanosoma cruzi and Leishmania major, which allowed in silico analyses that in turn directed the identification of numerous genes with interesting chemotherapeutic characteristics, including a large family of calpain-related proteins, in which to date 23 genes were assigned as calpains in T. brucei, 40 in T. cruzi and 33 in L. braziliensis. In the present review, we intend to add to these biochemical/biological reports the investigations performed upon the inhibitory capability of calpain inhibitors against human pathogenic trypanosomatids.
Keywords: Alternative chemotherapy, calpain, Leishmania, monoxenous trypanosomatids, peptidase inhibitor, Trypanosoma, virulence.