Pyrimidine salvage in Trypanosoma brucei bloodstream forms and the trypanocidal action of halogenated pyrimidines

Mol Pharmacol. 2013 Feb;83(2):439-53. doi: 10.1124/mol.112.082321. Epub 2012 Nov 27.


African trypanosomes are capable of both pyrimidine biosynthesis and salvage of preformed pyrimidines from the host. However, uptake of pyrimidines in bloodstream form trypanosomes has not been investigated, making it difficult to judge the relative importance of salvage and synthesis or to design a pyrimidine-based chemotherapy. Detailed characterization of pyrimidine transport activities in bloodstream form Trypanosoma brucei brucei found that these cells express a high-affinity uracil transporter (designated TbU3) that is clearly distinct from the procyclic pyrimidine transporters. This transporter had low affinity for uridine and 2'deoxyuridine and was the sole pyrimidine transporter expressed in these cells. In addition, thymidine was taken up inefficiently through a P1-type nucleoside transporter. Of importance, the anticancer drug 5-fluorouracil was an excellent substrate for TbU3, and several 5-fluoropyrimidine analogs were investigated for uptake and trypanocidal activity; 5F-orotic acid, 5F-2'deoxyuridine displayed activity in the low micromolar range. The metabolism and mode of action of these analogs was determined using metabolomic assessments of T. brucei clonal lines adapted to high levels of these pyrimidine analogs, and of the sensitive parental strains. The analysis showed that 5-fluorouracil is incorporated into a large number of metabolites but likely exerts toxicity through incorporation into RNA. 5F-2'dUrd and 5F-2'dCtd are not incorporated into nucleic acids but act as prodrugs by inhibiting thymidylate synthase as 5F-dUMP. We present the most complete model of pyrimidine salvage in T. brucei to date, supported by genome-wide profiling of the predicted pyrimidine biosynthesis and conversion enzymes.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Biological Transport / drug effects
  • Fluorouracil / pharmacology
  • Genome-Wide Association Study / methods
  • Glycosylation / drug effects
  • Nucleoside Transport Proteins / metabolism*
  • Pyrimidines / metabolism*
  • Pyrimidines / pharmacology*
  • Trypanosoma brucei brucei / drug effects*
  • Trypanosoma brucei brucei / metabolism*
  • Uracil / metabolism
  • Uridine / metabolism


  • Nucleoside Transport Proteins
  • Pyrimidines
  • Uracil
  • 5-fluoropyrimidine
  • Fluorouracil
  • Uridine