In silico multiple-targets identification for heme detoxification in the human malaria parasite Plasmodium falciparum

Infect Genet Evol. 2016 Jan;37:237-44. doi: 10.1016/j.meegid.2015.11.025. Epub 2015 Dec 2.


Detoxification of hemoglobin byproducts or free heme is an essential step and considered potential targets for anti-malaria drug development. However, most of anti-malaria drugs are no longer effective due to the emergence and spread of the drug resistant malaria parasites. Therefore, it is an urgent need to identify potential new targets and even for target combinations for effective malaria drug design. In this work, we reconstructed the metabolic networks of Plasmodium falciparum and human red blood cells for the simulation of steady mass and flux flows of the parasite's metabolites under the blood environment by flux balance analysis (FBA). The integrated model, namely iPF-RBC-713, was then adjusted into two stage-specific metabolic models, which first was for the pathological stage metabolic model of the parasite when invaded the red blood cell without any treatment and second was for the treatment stage of the parasite when a drug acted by inhibiting the hemozoin formation and caused high production rate of heme toxicity. The process of identifying target combinations consisted of two main steps. Firstly, the optimal fluxes of reactions in both the pathological and treatment stages were computed and compared to determine the change of fluxes. Corresponding enzymes of the reactions with zero fluxes in the treatment stage but non-zero fluxes in the pathological stage were predicted as a preliminary list of potential targets in inhibiting heme detoxification. Secondly, the combinations of all possible targets listed in the first step were examined to search for the best promising target combinations resulting in more effective inhibition of the detoxification to kill the malaria parasites. Finally, twenty-three enzymes were identified as a preliminary list of candidate targets which mostly were in pyruvate metabolism and citrate cycle. The optimal set of multiple targets for blocking the detoxification was a set of heme ligase, adenosine transporter, myo-inositol 1-phosphate synthase, ferrodoxim reductase-like protein and guanine transporter. In conclusion, the method has shown an effective and efficient way to identify target combinations which are obviously useful in the development of novel antimalarial drug combinations.

Keywords: Antimalarial drug targets; Drug resistance; Flux balance analysis; Metabolic network; Multiple drug targets; Plasmodium falciparum; Red blood cell.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Antimalarials / pharmacology*
  • Computational Biology / methods
  • Computer Simulation
  • Erythrocytes / drug effects
  • Erythrocytes / metabolism
  • Erythrocytes / parasitology
  • Heme / metabolism
  • Humans
  • Malaria, Falciparum / blood
  • Malaria, Falciparum / drug therapy
  • Malaria, Falciparum / metabolism*
  • Metabolic Networks and Pathways* / drug effects
  • Plasmodium falciparum / drug effects
  • Plasmodium falciparum / metabolism*


  • Antimalarials
  • Heme