Primaquine revisited six decades after its discovery

Eur J Med Chem. 2009 Mar;44(3):937-53. doi: 10.1016/j.ejmech.2008.08.011. Epub 2008 Sep 11.


Primaquine was firstly synthesized in 1946 in the USA, and is the most representative member of the anti-malarial 8-aminoquinolines. Six decades have passed and primaquine is still the only transmission-blocking anti-malarial clinically available, displaying a marked activity against gametocytes of all species of human malaria, including multi-resistant Plasmodium falciparum strains. Primaquine is also effective against all exoerythrocytic forms of the parasite and is used in conjunction with other anti-malarials for the treatment of vivax and ovale malaria. However, primaquine is often associated with serious adverse effects, in consequence of its toxic metabolites. 5-Hydroxyprimaquine or 6-methoxy-8-aminoquinoline has been considered to be directly responsible for complications such as hemolytic anemia. Primaquine toxicity is aggravated in people deficient of 6-glucose phosphate dehydrogenase or glutathione synthetase. Adverse effects are further amplified by the fact that primaquine must be repeatedly administered at high doses, due to its limited oral bioavailability. Over the last two decades, Medicinal Chemists have battled against primaquine's disadvantages, while keeping or even improving its unequalled performance as an anti-malarial. The present text revisits primaquine and its properties on the occasion of its 60th anniversary and aims to give a general overview of what has been the path towards the development of effective and safe primaquine-based anti-malarials. Presently, aablaquine and tafenoquine the two most promising primaquine analogues are already in the final stages of clinical trials against Plasmodium vivax and P. falciparum. Both compounds are a new hope against malaria and other primaquine-sensitive illnesses, such as Pneumocystis Pneumonia or the Chagas disease.

Publication types

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

MeSH terms

  • Animals
  • Antimalarials / adverse effects
  • Antimalarials / pharmacokinetics
  • Antimalarials / pharmacology*
  • Humans
  • Plasmodium falciparum / drug effects
  • Primaquine / adverse effects
  • Primaquine / pharmacokinetics
  • Primaquine / pharmacology*


  • Antimalarials
  • Primaquine