Glutathione – Functions and Metabolism in the Malarial Parasite Plasmodium falciparum

K. Becker, S. Rahlfs, C. Nickel and R. H. Schirmer


When present as a trophozoite in human erythrocytes, the malarial parasite Plasmodium falciparum exhibits an intense glutathione metabolism. Glutathione plays a role not only in antioxidative defense and in maintaining the reducing environment of the cytosol. Many of the known glutathione-dependent processes are directly related to the specific lifestyle of the parasite. Reduced glutathione (GSH) supports rapid cell growth by providing electrons for deoxyribonucleotide synthesis and it takes part in detoxifying heme, a product of hemoglobin digestion. Free radicals generated in the parasite can be scavenged in reaction sequences involving the thiyl radical GS as well as the thiolate GS. As a substrate of glutathione S-transferase, glutathione is conjugated to nondegradable compounds including antimalarial drugs. Furthermore, it is the coenzyme of the glyoxalase system which detoxifies methylglyoxal, a byproduct of the intense glycolysis taking place in the trophozoite. Proteins involved in GSH-dependent processes include glutathione reductase, glutaredoxins, glyoxalase I and II, glutathione S-transferases, and thioredoxins. These proteins, as well as the ATP-dependent enzymes of glutathione synthesis, are studied as factors in the pathophysiology of malaria but also as potential drug targets. Methylene blue, an inhibitor of the structurally known P. falciparum glutathione reductase, appears to be a promising antimalarial medication when given in combination with chloroquine.

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Biological Chemistry keeps you up-to-date with the latest advances in the molecular life sciences. The journal publishes Research Articles, Short Communications, Reviews and Minireviews. Areas include: general biochemistry/pathobiochemistry, structural biology, molecular and cellular biology, genetics and epigenetics, virology, molecular medicine, plant molecular biology/biochemistry and novel experimental methodologies.