Plasmodium falciparum Ferredoxin-NADP+ Reductase-Catalyzed Redox Cycling of Plasmodione Generates Both Predicted Key Drug Metabolites: Implication for Antimalarial Drug Development

ACS Infect Dis. 2021 Jul 9;7(7):1996-2012. doi: 10.1021/acsinfecdis.1c00054. Epub 2021 Apr 15.


Plasmodione (PD) is a potent antimalarial redox-active 3-benzyl-menadione acting at low nanomolar range concentrations on different malaria parasite stages. The specific bioactivation of PD was proposed to occur via a cascade of redox reactions starting from one-electron reduction and then benzylic oxidation, leading to the generation of several key metabolites including corresponding benzylic alcohol (PD-bzol, for PD benzhydrol) and 3-benzoylmenadione (PDO, for PD oxide). In this study, we showed that the benzylic oxidation of PD is closely related to the formation of a benzylic semiquinone radical, which can be produced under two conditions: UV photoirradiation or catalysis by Plasmodium falciparum apicoplast ferredoxin-NADP+ reductase (PfFNR) redox cycling in the presence of oxygen and the parent PD. Electrochemical properties of both PD metabolites were investigated in DMSO and in water. The single-electron reduction potential values of PD, PD-bzol, PDO, and a series of 3-benzoylmenadiones were determined according to ascorbate oxidation kinetics. These compounds possess enhanced reactivity toward PfFNR as compared with model quinones. Optimal conditions were set up to obtain the best conversion of the starting PD to the corresponding metabolites. UV irradiation of PD in isopropanol under positive oxygen pressure led to an isolated yield of 31% PDO through the transient semiquinone species formed in a cascade of reactions. In the presence of PfFNR, PDO and PD-bzol could be observed during long lasting redox cycling of PD continuously fueled by NADPH regenerated by an enzymatic system. Finally, we observed and quantified the effect of PD on the production of oxidative stress in the apicoplast of transgenic 3D7[Api-roGFP2-hGrx1]P. falciparum parasites by using the described genetically encoded glutathione redox sensor hGrx1-roGFP2 methodology. The observed fast reactive oxygen species (ROS) pulse released in the apicoplast is proposed to be mediated by PD redox cycling catalyzed by PfFNR.

Keywords: apicoplast; benzylic oxidation; electrochemistry; ferredoxin−NADP+ reductase; plasmodione; redox cycling.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Antimalarials*
  • Catalysis
  • Ferredoxin-NADP Reductase / metabolism
  • Ferredoxins / metabolism
  • NADP / metabolism
  • Oxidation-Reduction
  • Pharmaceutical Preparations*
  • Plasmodium falciparum / metabolism
  • Vitamin K 3 / analogs & derivatives


  • Antimalarials
  • Ferredoxins
  • Pharmaceutical Preparations
  • plasmodione
  • NADP
  • Vitamin K 3
  • Ferredoxin-NADP Reductase