Antimalarial 4-aminoquinolines: mode of action and pharmacokinetics

Fundam Clin Pharmacol. 1994;8(1):1-17. doi: 10.1111/j.1472-8206.1994.tb00774.x.


In the last ten years, the widespread increase in Plasmodium falciparum resistance to chloroquine has prompted research into antimalarial 4-aminoquinolines, empirically used up to now. The mechanism of action of 4-aminoquinolines is characterized by the concentration of the drug in the digestive vacuole of the intraerythrocytic parasite. Various hypotheses have been advanced to explain the specificity of action on the parasite; the most recent one is the inhibition of the haem polymerase of the parasite, leading to the accumulation of soluble haem toxic for the parasite. Chloroquine-resistant parasites accumulate the drug to a lesser extent than do sensitive parasites. Recent findings have shown that chloroquine resistance can be reversed by various tricyclic drugs, which are able to restore the effective concentrations of chloroquine in the infected erythrocyte, but intrinsic mechanisms of action of these reversing agents are unknown. Four-aminoquinolines are extensively distributed in tissues and characterized by a long elimination half-life. Despite similarities in their chemical structures, these drugs show differences in their biotransformation and routes of elimination: chloroquine is partly metabolized into a monodesethylderivative and eliminated mainly by the kidney. In contrast, amodiaquine is a prodrug and amopyroquine is poorly metabolized; both drugs are excreted mainly in the bile. The understanding of the pharmacokinetics of 4-aminoquinolines has led to an improvement in empirically defined therapeutic regimens. Finally, the emergence of severe adverse-effects after prolonged prophylaxis with amodiaquine and the lack of cross resistance of Plasmodium falciparum between chloroquine and amopyroquine, have led to a proposal for the use of intramuscular amopyroquine as an alternative for the treatment of chloroquine-resistant malaria.

Publication types

  • Review

MeSH terms

  • Aminoquinolines / pharmacokinetics*
  • Aminoquinolines / pharmacology
  • Aminoquinolines / therapeutic use
  • Animals
  • Antimalarials / pharmacokinetics*
  • Antimalarials / pharmacology
  • Antimalarials / therapeutic use
  • Biotransformation
  • Chloroquine / pharmacology
  • Drug Resistance
  • Half-Life
  • Humans
  • Malaria, Falciparum / drug therapy*
  • Malaria, Falciparum / metabolism
  • Plasmodium falciparum / drug effects*
  • Structure-Activity Relationship
  • Tissue Distribution


  • Aminoquinolines
  • Antimalarials
  • Chloroquine