Unlike mammalian cells, malarial parasites are completely dependent on the de novo pyrimidine pathway and lack the enzymes to salvage preformed pyrimidines. In the present study, first, it is shown that 1843U89, even without polyglutamylation, is a potent folate-based inhibitor of purified malarial parasite thymidylate synthase. The binding was noncompetitive with respect to methylenetetrahydrofolate, and 1843U89 had a K(i) of 1 nM. The compound also had potent antimalarial activity in vitro. Plasmodium falciparum cells in culture were inhibited by 1843U89, with a 50% inhibitory concentration of about 70 nM. The compound was effective against drug-sensitive as well as drug-resistant clones of P. falciparum. As predicted by the biochemistry of the parasite, the potent inhibition of parasite proliferation by 1843U89 could not be reversed with 10 microM thymidine. In contrast, in the presence of 10 microM thymidine, mammalian cells were unaffected by 1843U89 even at concentrations as high as 0.1 mM, thus offering a selectivity window of more than 1,000-fold. On this basis, folate-based thymidylate synthase inhibitors may represent a powerful additional tool that can be used to combat drug-resistant malaria.