Chemotherapeutic Strategies Against Trypanosoma brucei: Drug Targets vs. Drug Targeting

L�scher, A.; de Koning, H. P.; M�ser, P.
February 2007
Current Pharmaceutical Design;Feb2007, Vol. 13 Issue 6, p555
Academic Journal
Trypanosoma brucei rhodesiense and T. b. gambiense are the causative agents of sleeping sickness, a fatal disease that affects 36 countries in sub-Saharan Africa. Nevertheless, only a handful of clinically useful drugs are available. These drugs suffer from severe side-effects. The situation is further aggravated by the alarming incidence of treatment failures in several sleeping sickness foci, apparently indicating the occurrence of drug-resistant trypanosomes. Because of these reasons, and since vaccination does not appear to be feasible due to the trypanosomes' ever changing coat of variable surface glycoproteins (VSGs), new drugs are needed urgently. The entry of Trypanosoma brucei into the post-genomic age raises hopes for the identification of novel kinds of drug targets and in turn new treatments for sleeping sickness. The pragmatic definition of a drug target is, a protein that is essential for the parasite and does not have homologues in the host. Such proteins are identified by comparing the predicted proteomes of T. brucei and Homo sapiens, then validated by large-scale gene disruption or gene silencing experiments in trypanosomes. Once all proteins that are essential and unique to the parasite are identified, inhibitors may be found by high-throughput screening. However powerful, this functional genomics approach is going to miss a number of attractive targets. Several current, successful parasiticides attack proteins that have close homologues in the human proteome. Drugs like DFMO or pyrimethamine inhibit parasite and host enzymes alike - a therapeutic window is opened only by subtle differences in the regulation of the targets, which cannot be recognized in silico. Working against the post-genomic approach is also the fact that essential proteins tend to be more highly conserved between species than non-essential ones. Here we advocate drug targeting, i.e. uptake or activation of a drug via parasite-specific pathways, as a chemotherapeutic strategy to selectively inhibit enzymes that have equally sensitive counterparts in the host. The T. brucei purine salvage machinery offers opportunities for both metabolic and transport- based targeting: unusual nucleoside and nucleobase permeases may be exploited for selective import, salvage enzymes for selective activation of purine antimetabolites.


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