Griseofulvin impairs intraerythrocytic growth of Plasmodium falciparum through ferrochelatase inhibition but lacks activity in an experimental human infection study

Sci Rep. 2017 Feb 8;7:41975. doi: 10.1038/srep41975.


Griseofulvin, an orally active antifungal drug used to treat dermatophyte infections, has a secondary effect of inducing cytochrome P450-mediated production of N-methyl protoporphyrin IX (N-MPP). N-MPP is a potent competitive inhibitor of the heme biosynthetic-enzyme ferrochelatase, and inhibits the growth of cultured erythrocyte stage Plasmodium falciparum. Novel drugs against Plasmodium are needed to achieve malaria elimination. Thus, we investigated whether griseofulvin shows anti-plasmodial activity. We observed that the intraerythrocytic growth of P. falciparum is inhibited in red blood cells pretreated with griseofulvin in vitro. Treatment with 100 μM griseofulvin was sufficient to prevent parasite growth and induce the production of N-MPP. Inclusion of the ferrochelatase substrate PPIX blocked the inhibitory activity of griseofulvin, suggesting that griseofulvin exerts its activity through the N-MPP-dependent inhibition of ferrochelatase. In an ex-vivo study, red blood cells from griseofulvin-treated subjects were refractory to the growth of cultured P. falciparum. However, in a clinical trial griseofulvin failed to show either therapeutic or prophylactic effect in subjects infected with blood stage P. falciparum. Although the development of griseofulvin as an antimalarial is not warranted, it represents a novel inhibitor of P. falciparum growth and acts via the N-MPP-dependent inhibition of ferrochelatase.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Adolescent
  • Adult
  • Animals
  • Antifungal Agents / metabolism
  • Antifungal Agents / therapeutic use*
  • Case-Control Studies
  • Cohort Studies
  • Erythrocytes / drug effects
  • Erythrocytes / metabolism
  • Erythrocytes / parasitology*
  • Female
  • Ferrochelatase / antagonists & inhibitors*
  • Follow-Up Studies
  • Griseofulvin / metabolism
  • Griseofulvin / therapeutic use*
  • Humans
  • Malaria, Falciparum / drug therapy
  • Malaria, Falciparum / parasitology*
  • Malaria, Falciparum / pathology
  • Male
  • Middle Aged
  • Pilot Projects
  • Plasmodium falciparum / drug effects
  • Plasmodium falciparum / growth & development*
  • Prognosis
  • Young Adult


  • Antifungal Agents
  • Griseofulvin
  • Ferrochelatase