Ferriprotoporphyrin IX, phospholipids, and the antimalarial actions of quinoline drugs

Life Sci. 2004 Mar 5;74(16):1957-72. doi: 10.1016/j.lfs.2003.10.003.


Two subclasses of quinoline antimalarial drugs are used clinically. Both act on the endolysosomal system of malaria parasites, but in different ways. Treatment with 4-aminoquinoline drugs, such as chloroquine, causes morphologic changes and hemoglobin accumulation in endocytic vesicles. Treatment with quinoline-4-methanol drugs, such as quinine and mefloquine, also causes morphologic changes, but does not cause hemoglobin accumulation. In addition, chloroquine causes undimerized ferriprotoporphyrin IX (ferric heme) to accumulate whereas quinine and mefloquine do not. On the contrary, treatment with quinine or mefloquine prevents and reverses chloroquine-induced accumulation of hemoglobin and undimerized ferriprotoporphyrin IX. This difference is of particular interest since there is convincing evidence that undimerized ferriprotoporphyrin IX in malaria parasites would interact with and serve as a target for chloroquine. According to the ferriprotoporphyrin IX interaction hypothesis, chloroquine would bind to undimerized ferriprotoporphyrin IX, delay its detoxification, cause it to accumulate, and allow it to exert its intrinsic biological toxicities. The ferriprotoporphyrin IX interaction hypothesis appears to explain the antimalarial action of chloroquine, but a drug target in addition to ferriprotoporphyrin IX is suggested by the antimalarial actions of quinine and mefloquine. This article summarizes current knowledge of the role of ferriprotoporphyrin IX in the antimalarial actions of quinoline drugs and evaluates the currently available evidence in support of phospholipids as a second target for quinine, mefloquine and, possibly, the chloroquine-ferriprotoporphyrin IX complex.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't
  • Review

MeSH terms

  • Animals
  • Antimalarials / chemistry
  • Antimalarials / metabolism
  • Antimalarials / pharmacology*
  • Hemin / chemistry
  • Hemin / metabolism*
  • Hemoglobins / metabolism
  • Phospholipids / metabolism
  • Plasmodium / drug effects*
  • Plasmodium / metabolism
  • Quinolines / chemistry
  • Quinolines / metabolism
  • Quinolines / pharmacology*
  • Transport Vesicles / drug effects
  • Transport Vesicles / metabolism


  • Antimalarials
  • Hemoglobins
  • Phospholipids
  • Quinolines
  • Hemin