Herbicidal properties of antimalarial drugs

Sci Rep. 2017 Mar 31;7:45871. doi: 10.1038/srep45871.


The evolutionary relationship between plants and the malarial parasite Plasmodium falciparum is well established and underscored by the P. falciparum apicoplast, an essential chloroplast-like organelle. As a result of this relationship, studies have demonstrated that herbicides active against plants are also active against P. falciparum and thus could act as antimalarial drug leads. Here we show the converse is also true; many antimalarial compounds developed for human use are highly herbicidal. We found that human antimalarial drugs (e.g. sulfadiazine, sulfadoxine, pyrimethamine, cycloguanil) were lethal to the model plant Arabidopsis thaliana at similar concentrations to market herbicides glufosinate and glyphosate. Furthermore, the physicochemical properties of these herbicidal antimalarial compounds were similar to commercially used herbicides. The implications of this finding that many antimalarial compounds are herbicidal proffers two novel applications: (i) using the genetically tractable A. thaliana to reveal mode-of-action for understudied antimalarial drugs, and (ii) co-opting antimalarial compounds as a new source for much needed herbicide lead molecules.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Antimalarials / pharmacology*
  • Arabidopsis / drug effects*
  • Arabidopsis / parasitology
  • Herbicides / pharmacology*
  • Humans
  • Malaria, Falciparum / drug therapy
  • Malaria, Falciparum / parasitology
  • Plasmodium falciparum / drug effects
  • Plasmodium falciparum / parasitology
  • Proguanil / pharmacology
  • Pyrimethamine / pharmacology
  • Sulfadiazine / pharmacology
  • Sulfadoxine / pharmacology
  • Triazines / pharmacology


  • Antimalarials
  • Herbicides
  • Triazines
  • Sulfadiazine
  • cycloguanil
  • Sulfadoxine
  • Proguanil
  • Pyrimethamine