Inhibiting the Plasmodium eIF2α Kinase PK4 Prevents Artemisinin-Induced Latency

Cell Host Microbe. 2017 Dec 13;22(6):766-776.e4. doi: 10.1016/j.chom.2017.11.005.


Artemisinin and its derivatives (ARTs) are frontline antimalarial drugs. However, ART monotherapy is associated with a high frequency of recrudescent infection, resulting in treatment failure. A subset of parasites is thought to undergo ART-induced latency, but the mechanisms remain unknown. Here, we report that ART treatment results in phosphorylation of the parasite eukaryotic initiation factor-2α (eIF2α), leading to repression of general translation and latency induction. Enhanced phosphorylated eIF2α correlates with high rates of recrudescence following ART, and inhibiting eIF2α dephosphorylation renders parasites less sensitive to ART treatment. ART-induced eIF2α phosphorylation is mediated by the Plasmodium eIF2α kinase, PK4. Overexpression of a PK4 dominant-negative or pharmacological inhibition of PK4 blocks parasites from entering latency and abolishes recrudescence after ART treatment of infected mice. These results show that translational control underlies ART-induced latency and that interference with this stress response may resolve the clinical problem of recrudescent infection.

Keywords: PK4; Plasmodium; artemisinin; eIF2α; endoplasmic reticulum; latency; recrudescence; resistance; translation.

MeSH terms

  • Animals
  • Antimalarials / pharmacology*
  • Artemisinins / pharmacology*
  • Eukaryotic Initiation Factor-2 / metabolism*
  • Mice
  • Phosphorylation
  • Plasmodium / drug effects*
  • Plasmodium / physiology*
  • Protein Biosynthesis / drug effects
  • Protein Processing, Post-Translational
  • Protein Serine-Threonine Kinases / antagonists & inhibitors*


  • Antimalarials
  • Artemisinins
  • Eukaryotic Initiation Factor-2
  • artemisinin
  • Protein Serine-Threonine Kinases