Malaria parasites are transmitted by mosquitoes, and blocking parasite transmission is critical in reducing or eliminating malaria in endemic regions. Here, we report the pharmacological characterization of a new class of malaria transmission-blocking compounds that acts via the inhibition of Plasmodia CDPK4 enzyme. We demonstrate that these compounds achieved selectivity over mammalian kinases by capitalizing on a small serine gatekeeper residue in the active site of the Plasmodium CDPK4 enzyme. To directly confirm the mechanism of action of these compounds, we generated P. falciparum parasites that express a drug-resistant methionine gatekeeper (S147 M) CDPK4 mutant. Mutant parasites showed a shift in exflagellation EC50 relative to the wild-type strains in the presence of compound 1294, providing chemical-genetic evidence that CDPK4 is the target of the compound. Pharmacokinetic analyses suggest that coformulation of this transmission-blocking agent with asexual stage antimalarials such as artemisinin combination therapy (ACT) is a promising option for drug delivery that may reduce transmission of malaria including drug-resistant strains. Ongoing studies include refining the compounds to improve efficacy and toxicological properties for efficient blocking of malaria transmission.
Keywords: Plasmodium falciparum; bumped kinase inhibitors; calcium-dependent protein kinase 4; malaria transmission-blocking.