Considerations on the mechanism of action of artemisinin antimalarials. Part 1. The 'carbon radical' and 'heme' hypotheses
Haynes, Richard K.
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The isolation of artemisinin from the traditional medicinal herb qīng hāo (Artemisia annua), its characterization as a peroxide and preparation of the derivatives dihydroartemisinin, artemether and artesunate in the 1970s and 1980s by Chinese scientists under the umbrella of Project 523 collectively represents one of the great events in medicine in the latter third of the 20th Century. Artemisinins have become the most important component of chemotherapy of malaria: although used initially in monotherapy, they are now used in combination therapies or ACTs with longer half-life quinolines or arylmethanols. Nevertheless, the recent emergence of artemisinin-tolerant strains of the malaria parasite as reflected in increased clearance times of parasitaemia in patients treated with ACTs represents the greatest threat to control of malaria since resistance to chloroquine was first reported over 55 years ago. Importantly, the event brings into sharp focus the realization that relatively little is precisely understood, as opposed to widely assumed, for the mechanism of drug action of artemisinins and their synthetic peroxide analogues. Thus, we review here their antimalarial activities, the use of artemisinins in combination therapies, drug-drug interactions with the quinolines and arylmethanols, and metabolism of the artemisinins and synthetic peroxides. The mechanism of action of quinolines and arylmethanols, in particular their ability to induce redistribution of heme into the parasite cytosol, is also highlighted. This collective information is then used as a counterpoint to screen the validity of two of the prevailing hypotheses of drug action of artemisinins and synthetic peroxides, namely i. 'the C-radical hypothesis' wherein the peroxide undergoes 'bioactivation' by ferrous iron to generate C-radicals that are held to be the cytotoxic agents and ii. the 'heme hypothesis' wherein ferrous heme may generate either the same type of 'cytotoxic' C-radical, or the peroxide forms heme adducts that apparently inherit the exquisite cytotoxicities of the parent peroxide in one way or another. In a subsequent review, we screen the third and fourth hypotheses: the SERCA hypothesis wherein artemisinins modulate operation of the malaria parasite sarcoendo plasmic reticulum calcium pump SERCA Ca2+-ATPase ATP6 and the co-factor hypothesis wherein artemisinins act as oxidant drugs through rapidly oxidizing reduced conjugates of flavin cofactors, or those of flavin cofactor precursors such as riboflavin, and other susceptible endogenous substrates that play a role in maintaining intraparasitic redox homeostasis...
- Faculty of Health Sciences