Inhibitors of ubiquitin E3 ligase as potential new antimalarial drug leads


Protein ubiquitylation is an important post-translational regulation, which has been shown to be necessary for life cycle progression and survival of Plasmodium falciparum. Ubiquitin is a highly conserved 76 amino acid polypeptide, which attaches covalently to target proteins through combined action of three classes of enzymes namely, the ubiquitin-activating enzyme (E1), ubiquitin-conjugating enzyme (E2) and ubiquitin-protein ligase (E3). Ubiquitin E1 and E2 are highly conserved within eukaryotes. However, the P. falciparum E3 ligase is substantially variable and divergent compared to the homologs from other eukaryotes, which make the E3 ligase a parasite-specific target.


A set of selected E3 ubiquitin ligase inhibitors was tested in vitro against a chloroquine-sensitive P. falciparum D6 strain (PfD6) and a chloroquine-resistant P. falciparum W2 strain (PfW2). The inhibitors were also tested against Vero and transformed THP1 cells for cytotoxicity. The lead antimalarial E3 ubiquitin ligase inhibitors were further evaluated for the stage-specific antimalarial action and effects on cellular development of P. falciparum in vitro. Statistics analysis was done by two-way ANOVA followed by Tukey and Sidak multiple comparison test using GraphPad Prism 6.


E3 ligase inhibitors namely, JNJ 26854165, HLI 373 and Nutlin 3 showed prominent antimalarial activity against PfD6 and PfW2. These inhibitors were considerably less cytotoxic to mammalian Vero cells. JNJ 26854165, HLI 373 and Nutlin 3 blocked the development of P. falciparum parasite at the trophozoite and schizont stages, resulting in accumulation of distorted trophozoites and immature schizonts.


Interruption of trophozoites and schizont maturation by the antimalarial E3 ligase inhibitors suggest the role of ubiquitin/proteasome functions in the intraerythrocytic development of malaria parasite. The ubiquitin/proteasome functions may be critical for schizont maturation. Further investigations on the lead E3 ligase inhibitors shall provide better understanding regarding the importance of E3 ligase functions in the malaria parasite as a potential new antimalarial drug target and a new class of antimalarial drug leads.

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S1172 Serdemetan (JNJ-26854165) Serdemetan (JNJ-26854165) acts as a HDM2 ubiquitin ligase antagonist and also induces early apoptosis in p53 wild-type cells, inhibits cellular proliferation followed by delayed apoptosis in the absence of functional p53. Phase 1.

Related Targets

p53 E3 Ligase