Malaria remains a major global health problem. Emerging resistance to existing antimalarial drugs drives the search for new antimalarials, and protein translation is a promising pathway to target. Here we explore the potential of the aminoacyl-tRNA synthetase (ARS) family as a source of antimalarial drug targets. First, a battery of known and novel ARS inhibitors was tested against Plasmodium falciparum cultures, and their activities were compared. Borrelidin, a natural inhibitor of threonyl-tRNA synthetase (ThrRS), stands out for its potent antimalarial effect. However, it also inhibits human ThrRS and is highly toxic to human cells. To circumvent this problem, we tested a library of bioengineered and semisynthetic borrelidin analogs for their antimalarial activity and toxicity. We found that some analogs effectively lose their toxicity against human cells while retaining a potent antiparasitic activity both in vitro and in vivo and cleared malaria from Plasmodium yoelii-infected mice, resulting in 100% mice survival rates. Our work identifies borrelidin analogs as potent, selective, and unexplored scaffolds that efficiently clear malaria both in vitro and in vivo.
Keywords: aminoacyl-tRNA synthetase; borrelidin; drug design; malaria; plasmodium.