Drug-induced permeabilization of parasite's digestive vacuole is a key trigger of programmed cell death in Plasmodium falciparum

Cell Death Dis. 2011 Oct 13;2(10):e216. doi: 10.1038/cddis.2011.97.


Having previously characterized chloroquine (CQ)-induced programmed cell death (PCD) hallmarks in the malaria parasite Plasmodium falciparum and delineating a pathway linking these features, the roles of non-classical mediators were investigated in this paper. It was shown that the later stages of this pathway are Ca(2+)-dependent and transcriptionally regulated. Moreover, it was demonstrated for the first time that micromolar concentrations of CQ partially permeabilized the parasite's digestive vacuole (DV) membrane and that this important upstream event appears to precede mitochondrial dysfunction. This permeabilization of the DV occurred without rupture of the DV membrane and was reminiscent of lysosome-mediated cell death in mammalian cells. As such micromolar concentrations of CQ are found in the patient's plasma after initial CQ loading, this alludes to a clinically relevant antimalarial mechanism of the drug which has yet to be recognized. Furthermore, other 'non-antimalarial' lysosomotropic compounds were also shown to cause DV permeabilization, triggering PCD in both CQ-sensitive and -resistant parasites. These findings present new avenues for antimalarial developments, which induce DV destabilization to kill parasites.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Animals
  • Antimalarials / pharmacology*
  • Chloroquine / pharmacology*
  • Dose-Response Relationship, Drug
  • Membrane Potential, Mitochondrial / drug effects
  • Microscopy, Electron
  • Plasmodium falciparum / cytology
  • Plasmodium falciparum / drug effects*
  • Plasmodium falciparum / metabolism*
  • Protein Array Analysis
  • Signal Transduction
  • Vacuoles / drug effects*
  • Vacuoles / metabolism


  • Antimalarials
  • Chloroquine