Antimalarial compounds with dual therapeutic and transmission-blocking activity are desired as high-value partners for combination therapies. Here, we report the identification and characterization of hexahydroquinolines (HHQs) that show low nanomolar potency against both pathogenic and transmissible intra-erythrocytic forms of the malaria parasite Plasmodium falciparum. This activity translates into potent transmission-blocking potential, as shown by in vitro male gamete formation assays and reduced oocyst infection and prevalence in Anopheles mosquitoes. In vivo studies illustrated the ability of lead HHQs to suppress Plasmodium berghei blood-stage parasite proliferation. Resistance selection studies, confirmed by CRISPR–Cas9-based gene editing, identified the digestive vacuole membrane-spanning transporter PfMDR1 (P. falciparum multidrug resistance gene-1) as a determinant of parasite resistance to HHQs. Haemoglobin and haem fractionation assays suggest a mode of action that results in reduced haemozoin levels and might involve inhibition of host haemoglobin uptake into intra-erythrocytic parasites. Furthermore, parasites resistant to HHQs displayed increased susceptibility to several first-line antimalarial drugs, including lumefantrine, confirming that HHQs have a different mode of action to other antimalarials drugs for which PfMDR1 is known to confer resistance. This work evokes therapeutic strategies that combine opposing selective pressures on this parasite transporter as an approach to countering the emergence and transmission of multidrug-resistant P. falciparum malaria.
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The authors thank T.T. Diagana (Novartis Institute for Tropical Diseases, Singapore) for provision of the compounds, the Red Cross (Australia and the USA) for the provision of human blood for cell cultures, and G. Stevenson for assistance with the triaging of compounds following screening. The authors acknowledge the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation (grant OPP1040399 to D.A.F. and V.M.A. and grant OPP1054480 to E.A.W. and D.A.F.), the National Institutes of Health (grant R01 AI103058 to E.A.W. and D.A.F., grant R01 AI50234 to D.A.F, and R01 AI110329 to T.J.E.), the Australian Research Council (LP120200557 to V.M.A.) and the Medicines for Malaria Venture for their continued support. P.E.F. and M.I.V. are supported by the Northern Portugal Regional Operational Programme (NORTE 2020), under the Portugal 2020 Partnership Agreement, through the European Regional Development Fund (FEDER).
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