Identification of MMV Malaria Box Inhibitors of Plasmodium falciparum Early-Stage Gametocytes Using a Luciferase-Based High-Throughput Assay

23 Sep 2013

Leonardo Lucantoni, Sandra Duffy, Sophie H. Adjalley, David A. Fidock, and Vicky M. Avery.

Antimicrobial Agents and Chemotherapy

DOI: 10.1128/AAC.00870-13.


The design of new antimalarial combinations to treat Plasmodium falciparum infections requires drugs that, in addition to resolving disease symptoms caused by asexual blood stage parasites, can also interrupt transmission to the mosquito vector. Gametocytes, which are essential for transmission, develop as sexual blood stage parasites in the human host over 8 to 12 days and are the most accessible developmental stage for transmission-blocking drugs. Considerable effort is currently being devoted to identifying compounds active against mature gametocytes. However, investigations on the drug sensitivity of developing gametocytes, as well as screening methods for identifying inhibitors of early gametocytogenesis, remain scarce. We have developed a luciferase-based high-throughput screening (HTS) assay using tightly synchronous stage I to III gametocytes from a recombinant P. falciparum line expressing green fluorescent protein (GFP)-luciferase. The assay has been used to evaluate the early-stage gametocytocidal activity of the MMV Malaria Box, a collection of 400 compounds with known antimalarial (asexual blood stage) activity. Screening this collection against early-stage (I to III) gametocytes yielded 64 gametocytocidal compounds with 50% inhibitory concentrations (IC50s) below 2.5 μM. This assay is reproducible and suitable for the screening of large compound libraries, with an average percent coefficient of variance (%CV) of ≤5%, an average signal-to-noise ratio (S:N) of >30, and a Z′ of ∼0.8. Our findings highlight the need for screening efforts directed specifically against early gametocytogenesis and indicate the importance of experimental verification of early-stage gametocytocidal activity in the development of new antimalarial candidates for combination therapy.

Read the full article on the ASM website.