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A diverse series of hemozoin-inhibiting quinolines, benzamides, triarylimidazoles, quinazolines, benzimidazoles, benzoxazoles, and benzothiazoles have been found to lead to exchangeable heme levels in cultured Plasmodium falciparum (NF54) that ranged over an order of magnitude at the IC50. Surprisingly, less active compounds often exhibited higher levels of exchangeable heme than more active ones. Quantities of intracellular inhibitor measured using the inoculum effect exhibited a linear correlation with exchangeable heme, suggesting formation of heme-inhibitor complexes in the parasite. In an effort to confirm this, the presence of a Br atom in one of the benzimidazole derivatives was exploited to image its distribution in the parasite using electron spectroscopic imaging of Br, an element not naturally abundant in cells. This showed that the compound colocalized with iron, consistent with its presence as a heme complex. Direct evidence for this complex was then obtained using confocal Raman microscopy. Exchangeable heme and inhibitor were found to increase with decreased rate of killing, suggesting that slow-acting compounds have more time to build up exchangeable heme complexes. Lastly, some but not all compounds evidently cause pro-oxidant effects because their activity could be attenuated with N-acetylcysteine and potentiated with t-butyl hydroperoxide. Collectively, these findings suggest that hemozoin inhibitors act as complexes with free heme, each with its own unique activity.


Roxanne Openshaw, Keletso Maepa, Stefan J Benjamin, Lauren Wainwright, Jill M Combrinck, Roger Hunter, Timothy J Egan. A Diverse Range of Hemozoin Inhibiting Scaffolds Act on Plasmodium falciparum as Heme Complexes. ACS infectious diseases. 2021 Feb 12;7(2):362-376

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PMID: 33430579

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