Cysteine protease inhibitors cure an experimental Trypanosoma cruzi infection

J Exp Med. 1998 Aug 17;188(4):725-34. doi: 10.1084/jem.188.4.725.


Trypanosoma cruzi is the causative agent of Chagas' disease. The major protease, cruzain, is a target for the development of new chemotherapy. We report the first successful treatment of an animal model of Chagas' disease with inhibitors designed to inactivate cruzain. Treatment with fluoromethyl ketone-derivatized pseudopeptides rescued mice from lethal infection. The optimal pseudopeptide scaffold was phenylalanine-homophenylalanine. To achieve cure of infection, this pseudopeptide scaffold was incorporated in a less toxic vinyl sulfone derivative. N-methyl piperazine-Phe-homoPhe-vinyl sulfone phenyl also rescued mice from a lethal infection. Six of the treated mice survived over nine months, three without further treatment. Three mice that had entered the chronic stage of infection were retreated with a 20-d regimen. At the conclusion of the experiments, five of the six mice had repeated negative hemacultures, indicative of parasitological cure. Studies of the effect of inhibitors on the intracellular amastigote form suggest that the life cycle is interrupted because of inhibitor arrest of normal autoproteolytic cruzain processing at the level of the Golgi complex. Parasites recovered from the hearts of treated mice showed the same abnormalities as those treated in vitro. No abnormalities were noted in the Golgi complex of host cells. This study provides proof of concept that cysteine protease inhibitors can be given at therapeutic doses to animals to selectively arrest a parasitic infection.

Publication types

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

MeSH terms

  • Amino Acid Chloromethyl Ketones / pharmacology
  • Amino Acid Chloromethyl Ketones / therapeutic use*
  • Animals
  • Chagas Disease / drug therapy*
  • Cysteine Proteinase Inhibitors / pharmacology
  • Cysteine Proteinase Inhibitors / therapeutic use*
  • Disease Models, Animal
  • Female
  • Macrophages / parasitology
  • Mice
  • Mice, Inbred C3H
  • Trypanocidal Agents / pharmacology
  • Trypanocidal Agents / therapeutic use*
  • Trypanosoma cruzi / drug effects


  • Amino Acid Chloromethyl Ketones
  • Cysteine Proteinase Inhibitors
  • Trypanocidal Agents