Melarsoprol Resistance in African Trypanosomiasis

Trends Parasitol. 2018 Jun;34(6):481-492. doi: 10.1016/ Epub 2018 Apr 25.


Arsenicals were introduced as monotherapies for the treatment of human African trypanosomiasis, or sleeping sickness, over 100 years ago. Toxicity has always been an issue but these drugs have proven to be both effective and quite durable. Unfortunately, melarsoprol-resistant parasites emerged as early as the 1970s and were widespread by the late 1990s. Resistance was due to mutations affecting an aquaglyceroporin (AQP2), a parasite solute and drug transporter. This is the only example of widespread drug resistance in trypanosomiasis patients for which the genetic basis is known. This link between melarsoprol and AQP2 illustrates how a drug transporter can improve drug selectivity but, at the same time, highlights the risk of resistance when the drug uptake mechanism is dispensable for parasite viability and virulence.

Keywords: AQP2; AT1; Trypanosoma brucei; adenosine transporter; aquaglyceroporin; arsenic; pentamidine.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't
  • Review

MeSH terms

  • Aquaglyceroporins / genetics
  • Drug Resistance / genetics
  • Humans
  • Melarsoprol / pharmacology
  • Melarsoprol / therapeutic use*
  • Mutation
  • Trypanosoma brucei gambiense / drug effects
  • Trypanosoma brucei gambiense / genetics
  • Trypanosomiasis, African / drug therapy*
  • Trypanosomiasis, African / parasitology*


  • Aquaglyceroporins
  • Melarsoprol