Host-based Prophylaxis Successfully Targets Liver Stage Malaria Parasites

Mol Ther. 2015 May;23(5):857-865. doi: 10.1038/mt.2015.18. Epub 2015 Feb 4.


Eliminating malaria parasites during the asymptomatic but obligate liver stages (LSs) of infection would stop disease and subsequent transmission. Unfortunately, only a single licensed drug that targets all LSs, Primaquine, is available. Targeting host proteins might significantly expand the repertoire of prophylactic drugs against malaria. Here, we demonstrate that both Bcl-2 inhibitors and P53 agonists dramatically reduce LS burden in a mouse malaria model in vitro and in vivo by altering the activity of key hepatocyte factors on which the parasite relies. Bcl-2 inhibitors act primarily by inducing apoptosis in infected hepatocytes, whereas P53 agonists eliminate parasites in an apoptosis-independent fashion. In combination, Bcl-2 inhibitors and P53 agonists act synergistically to delay, and in some cases completely prevent, the onset of blood stage disease. Both families of drugs are highly effective at doses that do not cause substantial hepatocyte cell death in vitro or liver damage in vivo. P53 agonists and Bcl-2 inhibitors were also effective when administered to humanized mice infected with Plasmodium falciparum. Our data demonstrate that host-based prophylaxis could be developed into an effective intervention strategy that eliminates LS parasites before the onset of clinical disease and thus opens a new avenue to prevent malaria.

Publication types

  • Research Support, N.I.H., Extramural
  • Research Support, U.S. Gov't, Non-P.H.S.

MeSH terms

  • Animals
  • Antimalarials / administration & dosage
  • Antimalarials / pharmacology*
  • Cell Line
  • Disease Models, Animal
  • Female
  • Imidazoles / administration & dosage
  • Imidazoles / pharmacology
  • Life Cycle Stages / drug effects*
  • Liver / parasitology*
  • Malaria / drug therapy
  • Malaria / metabolism
  • Malaria / parasitology*
  • Malaria / prevention & control
  • Malaria, Falciparum / drug therapy
  • Malaria, Falciparum / metabolism
  • Malaria, Falciparum / parasitology
  • Malaria, Falciparum / prevention & control
  • Mice
  • Mice, Transgenic
  • Parasite Load
  • Piperazines / administration & dosage
  • Piperazines / pharmacology
  • Plasmodium / drug effects*
  • Plasmodium / physiology*
  • Plasmodium falciparum / drug effects
  • Plasmodium falciparum / physiology
  • Post-Exposure Prophylaxis*
  • Proto-Oncogene Proteins c-bcl-2 / antagonists & inhibitors
  • Proto-Oncogene Proteins c-bcl-2 / metabolism
  • Pyrroles / administration & dosage
  • Pyrroles / pharmacology
  • Tumor Suppressor Protein p53 / antagonists & inhibitors
  • Tumor Suppressor Protein p53 / metabolism


  • Antimalarials
  • Imidazoles
  • Piperazines
  • Proto-Oncogene Proteins c-bcl-2
  • Pyrroles
  • Tumor Suppressor Protein p53
  • nutlin 3
  • obatoclax