Greenbaum, D.C. et al. A role for the protease falcipain 1 in host cell invasion by the human malaria parasite. Science 298, 2002-2006

Department of Pharmaceutical Chemistry, Veterans Affairs Medical Center, University of California, San Francisco, CA 94143, USA.
Science (Impact Factor: 33.61). 01/2003; 298(5600):2002-6. DOI: 10.1126/science.1077426
Source: PubMed


Cysteine proteases of Plasmodium falciparum are required for survival of the malaria parasite, yet their specific cellular functions remain unclear. We used a chemical proteomic screen with a small-molecule probe to characterize the predominant cysteine proteases throughout the parasite life cycle. Only one protease, falcipain 1, was active during the invasive merozoite stage. Falcipain 1-specific inhibitors, identified by screening of chemical libraries, blocked parasite invasion of host erythrocytes, yet had no effect on normal parasite processes such as hemoglobin degradation. These results demonstrate a specific role for falcipain 1 in host cell invasion and establish a potential new target for antimalarial therapeutics.

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    ABSTRACT: Falcipain-3 (FP3) is an essential and drug target cysteine protease of the most lethal human malaria parasite Plasmodium falciparum. FP3 and its majority of homologs in malaria parasites prefer Leu at the P2 position in substrates and inhibitors, whereas its major host homolog cathepsin L prefers Phe. However, FP3 is much less active on peptide substrates and has negligible activity against a P2 Arg-containing substrate (Z-RR-AMC) compared to its paralog falcipain-2A (FP2A). To identify the specificity determinants, the S2/3 pocket residues of FP3 were substituted with the corresponding residues in FP2 or cathepsin L, and the wild type and mutant proteases were assessed for hydrolysis of peptide and protein substrates. Our results indicate that the S2 pocket residues I94 and P181of FP3 are chiefly responsible for its P2 Leu preference and negligible activity for Z-RR-AMC, respectively. E243 in FP3 and the corresponding residue D234 in FP2 have a key role in Z-RR-AMC hydrolysing activity, possibly through stabilization of side chain interactions, as their substitution with Ala abolished the activity. Several FP3 mutants, which retained P2 Leu preference and showed similar or more activity than wild type FP3 on peptide substrates, degraded haemoglobin less efficiently than wild type FP3, suggesting that multiple residues contribute to haemoglobinase activity. Furthermore, P181 and E243 appear to contribute to the optimum activity of FP3 in the food vacuole milieu (≈pH 5.5). The identification of residues determining specificity of FP3 could aid in developing specific inhibitors of FP3 and its homologs in malaria parasites.
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    • "They found that in the schizont stage where the parasite invasion occurs, only one protein (Falcipain 1) showed proteolytic activity. It was later utilized in enzymatic screening of a compound library that led to the discovery of YA29-Eps, a potent blocker of the parasite invasion (Greenbaum et al. 2002). "
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