The thiol-based redox networks of pathogens: unexploited targets in the search for new drugs

Biofactors. 2006;27(1-4):109-20. doi: 10.1002/biof.5520270110.


Hydroperoxide metabolism in diverse pathogens is reviewed under consideration of involved enzymes as potential drug targets. The common denominator of the peroxidase systems of Trypanosoma, Leishmania, Plasmodium, and Mycobacterium species is the use of NAD(P)H to reduce hydroperoxides including peroxynitrite via a flavin-containing disulfide reductase, a thioredoxin (Trx)-related protein and a peroxidase that operates with thiol catalysis. In Plasmodium falciparum, thioredoxin- and glutathione dependent systems appear to be linked via glutaredoxin and plasmoredoxin to terminal thioredoxin peroxidases belonging to both, the peroxiredoxin (Prx) and glutathione peroxidase (GPx) family. In Mycobacterium tuberculosis, a catalase-type peroxidase is complemented by the typical 2-C-Prx AhpC that, in contrast to most bacteria, is reduced by TrxC, and an atypical 2-C-Prx reduced by TrxB or C. A most complex variation of the scheme is found in trypanosomatids, where the unique redox metabolite trypanothione reduces the thioredoxin-related tryparedoxin, which fuels Prx- and GPx-type peroxidases as well as ribonucleotide reductase. In Trypanosoma brucei and Leishmania donovani the system has been shown to be essential for viability and virulence by inversed genetics. It is concluded that optimum efficacy can be expected from inhibitors of the most upstream components of the redox cascades. For trypanosomatids attractive validated drug targets are trypanothione reductase and trypanothione synthetase; for mycobacteria thioredoxin reductase appears most appealing, while in Plasmodium simultaneous inhibition of both the thioredoxin and the glutathione pathway appears advisable to avoid mutual substitution in co-substrate supply to the peroxidases. Financial and organisational needs to translate the scientific progress into applicable drugs are discussed under consideration of the socio-economic impact of the addressed diseases.

Publication types

  • Review

MeSH terms

  • Animals
  • Humans
  • Leishmania donovani / drug effects
  • Leishmania donovani / metabolism*
  • Leishmania donovani / pathogenicity
  • Metabolic Networks and Pathways / drug effects
  • Oxidation-Reduction / drug effects
  • Peroxidases / metabolism*
  • Peroxiredoxins
  • Sulfhydryl Compounds / metabolism*
  • Trypanocidal Agents / pharmacology
  • Trypanocidal Agents / therapeutic use
  • Trypanosoma brucei brucei / drug effects
  • Trypanosoma brucei brucei / metabolism*
  • Trypanosoma brucei brucei / pathogenicity
  • Trypanosomiasis / drug therapy
  • Trypanosomiasis / parasitology


  • Sulfhydryl Compounds
  • Trypanocidal Agents
  • Peroxidases
  • Peroxiredoxins