Antimalarial drugs: modes of action and mechanisms of parasite resistance

Future Microbiol. 2010 Dec;5(12):1857-73. doi: 10.2217/fmb.10.136.


Malaria represents one of the most serious threats to human health worldwide, and preventing and curing this parasitic disease still depends predominantly on the administration of a small number of drugs whose efficacy is continually threatened and eroded by the emergence of drug-resistant parasite populations. This has an enormous impact on the mortality and morbidity resulting from malaria infection, especially in sub-Saharan Africa, where the lethal human parasite species Plasmodium falciparum accounts for approximately 90% of deaths recorded globally. Successful treatment of uncomplicated malaria is now highly dependent on artemisinin-based combination therapies. However, the first cases of artemisinin-resistant field isolates have been reported recently and potential replacement antimalarials are only in the developmental stages. Here, we summarize recent progress in tackling the problem of parasite resistance and discuss the underlying molecular mechanisms that confer resistance to current antimalarial agents as far as they are known, understanding of which should assist in the rational development of new drugs and the more effective deployment of older ones.

Publication types

  • Review

MeSH terms

  • Antimalarials / pharmacology*
  • Antimalarials / therapeutic use
  • Artemisinins / pharmacology
  • Atovaquone / pharmacology
  • Drug Resistance*
  • Folic Acid Antagonists / pharmacology
  • Humans
  • Malaria / drug therapy
  • Plasmodium falciparum / drug effects*
  • Quinolines / pharmacology
  • Quinolines / therapeutic use


  • Antimalarials
  • Artemisinins
  • Folic Acid Antagonists
  • Quinolines
  • artemisinin
  • Atovaquone