Catalytic and ligand-binding characteristics of Plasmodium falciparum serine hydroxymethyltransferase

Mol Biochem Parasitol. 2009 Nov;168(1):74-83. doi: 10.1016/j.molbiopara.2009.06.011. Epub 2009 Jul 8.


The plant-like, bifunctional dihydrofolate reductase-thymidylate synthase (DHFR-TS) from malaria parasites has been a good target for drug development. Dihydrofolate reductase (DHFR) is inhibited by clinically established antimalarials, pyrimethamine and cycloguanil. Thymidylate synthase (TS) is the target of potent experimental antimalarials such as 5-fluoroorotate and 1843U89. Another enzyme in folate recycling, serine hydroxymethyltransferase (SHMT), produces 5,10-methylenetetrahydrofolate which, in many cells, is required for the de novo, biosynthesis of thymidine and methionine. Thus, the biochemical characterization of malarial SHMT was of interest. The principle, active Plasmodium falciparum SHMT (PfSHMT) was expressed in E. coli and purified using an N-terminal histidine tag. Unlike the plant enzyme, but like the host enzyme, PfSHMT requires the cofactor pyridoxal 5'-phosphate for enzymatic activity. The substrate specificities for serine, tetrahydrofolate, and pyridoxal 5'-phosphate were comparable to those for SHMT from other organisms. Antifolates developed for DHFR and TS inhibited SHMT in the mid-micromolar range, offering insights into the binding preferences of SHMT but clearly leaving room for improved new inhibitors. As previously seen with P. falciparum DHFR-TS, PfSHMT bound its cognate mRNA but not control RNA for actin. RNA binding was not reversed with enzyme substrates. Unlike DHFR-TS, the SHMT RNA-protein interaction was not tight enough to inhibit translation. Another gene PF14_0534, previously proposed to code for an alternate mitochondrial SHMT, was also expressed in E. coli but found to be inactive. This protein, nor DHFR-TS, enhanced the catalytic activity of PfSHMT. The present results set the stage for developing specific, potent inhibitors of SHMT from P. falciparum.

Publication types

  • Research Support, N.I.H., Extramural
  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Animals
  • Chromatography, Affinity
  • Cloning, Molecular
  • Coenzymes / pharmacology
  • Enzyme Inhibitors / pharmacology
  • Escherichia coli / genetics
  • Folic Acid Antagonists / pharmacology
  • Gene Expression
  • Glycine Hydroxymethyltransferase / antagonists & inhibitors
  • Glycine Hydroxymethyltransferase / genetics
  • Glycine Hydroxymethyltransferase / isolation & purification
  • Glycine Hydroxymethyltransferase / metabolism*
  • Plasmodium falciparum / enzymology*
  • Protein Binding
  • Pyridoxal Phosphate / pharmacology
  • RNA, Messenger / metabolism
  • Recombinant Fusion Proteins / antagonists & inhibitors
  • Recombinant Fusion Proteins / genetics
  • Recombinant Fusion Proteins / isolation & purification
  • Recombinant Fusion Proteins / metabolism
  • Serine / metabolism
  • Substrate Specificity
  • Tetrahydrofolates / metabolism


  • Coenzymes
  • Enzyme Inhibitors
  • Folic Acid Antagonists
  • RNA, Messenger
  • Recombinant Fusion Proteins
  • Tetrahydrofolates
  • 5,6,7,8-tetrahydrofolic acid
  • Serine
  • Pyridoxal Phosphate
  • Glycine Hydroxymethyltransferase