Fatty acid metabolism in the Plasmodium apicoplast: Drugs, doubts and knockouts

Mol Biochem Parasitol. 2015 Jan-Feb;199(1-2):34-50. doi: 10.1016/j.molbiopara.2015.03.004. Epub 2015 Apr 2.


The malaria parasite Plasmodium possesses a relict, non-photosynthetic plastid known as the apicoplast. The apicoplast is essential for parasite survival, and harbors several plant-like metabolic pathways including a type II fatty acid synthesis (FASII) pathway. The FASII pathway was discovered in 1998, and much of the early research in the field pursued it as a therapeutic drug target. These studies identified a range of compounds with activity against bloodstage parasites and led to the localization and characterization of most enzymes in the pathway. However, when genetic studies revealed FASII was dispensable in bloodstage parasites, it effectively discounted the pathway as a therapeutic drug target, and suggested these compounds instead interfered with other processes. Interest in FASII then shifted toward its disruption for malaria prophylaxis and vaccine development, with experiments in rodent malaria models identifying a crucial role for the pathway in the parasite's transition from the liver to the blood. Unexpectedly however, the human malaria parasite P. falciparum was recently found to differ from rodent models and require FASII for mosquito stage development. This requirement blocked the production of the FASII-deficient forms that might be used as a genetically attenuated parasite vaccine, suggesting the pathway was also unsuitable as a vaccine target. This review discusses how perception of FASII has changed over time, and presents key findings about each enzyme in the pathway to identify remaining questions and opportunities for malaria control.

Keywords: Apicoplast; FASII; Fatty acid; Lipid; Plasmodium; Toxoplasma.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't
  • Review

MeSH terms

  • Antimalarials / isolation & purification
  • Antimalarials / pharmacology
  • Apicoplasts / metabolism*
  • Biomedical Research / trends
  • Drug Discovery / trends
  • Fatty Acids / metabolism*
  • Malaria Vaccines / immunology
  • Malaria Vaccines / isolation & purification
  • Plasmodium / metabolism*


  • Antimalarials
  • Fatty Acids
  • Malaria Vaccines