Stimulation of Suicidal Erythrocyte Death by Tafenoquine

Cell Physiol Biochem. 2016;39(6):2464-2476. doi: 10.1159/000452514. Epub 2016 Nov 11.


Background/aims: The 8-aminoquinoline tafenoquine has been shown to be effective against Plasmodia, Leishmania and Trypanosoma. The substance is at least in part effective by triggering apoptosis of the parasites. Similar to apoptosis, erythrocytes may enter suicidal death or eryptosis, which is characterized by cell shrinkage and cell membrane scrambling with phosphatidylserine translocation to the erythrocyte surface. Signaling involved in the regulation of eryptosis include increase of cytosolic Ca2+ activity ([Ca2+]i), oxidative stress, ceramide, zVAD sensitive caspases, SB203580 sensitive p38 kinase, staurosporine sensitive protein kinase C as well as D4476 sensitive casein kinase. The present study explored, whether tafenoquine induces eryptosis and aimed to possibly identify cellular mechanisms involved.

Methods: Flow cytometry was employed to estimate phosphatidylserine exposure at the cell surface from annexin-V-binding, cell volume from forward scatter, [Ca2+]i from Fluo3-fluorescence, ROS formation from 2',7'-dichlorodihydrofluorescein diacetate (DCFDA) dependent fluorescence, and ceramide abundance utilizing specific antibodies.

Results: A 48 hours exposure of human erythrocytes to tafenoquine (500 ng/ml) significantly increased the percentage of annexin-V-binding cells, significantly decreased forward scatter, significantly increased Fluo3-fluorescence, and significantly increased DCFDA fluorescence. Tafenoquine did not significantly modify ceramide abundance. The effect of tafenoquine on annexin-V-binding was significantly blunted but not abolished by removal of extracellular Ca2+. The effect of tafenoquine on annexin-V-binding was not significantly blunted by zVAD (10 µM), SB203580 (2 µM) or staurosporine (1 µM). The effect of tafenoquine on annexin-V-binding was significantly blunted but not abolished by D4476 (10 µM).

Conclusions: Tafenoquine triggers cell shrinkage and phospholipid scrambling of the erythrocyte cell membrane, an effect at least in part due to stimulation of Ca2+ entry, oxidative stress and possibly activation of casein kinase.

MeSH terms

  • Aminoquinolines / pharmacology*
  • Calcium / metabolism
  • Cytosol / drug effects
  • Cytosol / metabolism
  • Eryptosis / drug effects*
  • Humans
  • Oxidative Stress / drug effects
  • Phosphatidylserines / metabolism
  • Reactive Oxygen Species / metabolism


  • Aminoquinolines
  • Phosphatidylserines
  • Reactive Oxygen Species
  • tafenoquine
  • Calcium