Iron chelation treatment of red blood cells infected with Plasmodium falciparum selectively intervenes with iron-dependent metabolism of malaria parasites and inhibits their development. Highly permeant hydroxamate iron chelator RSFileum2 affects all parasite stages when cultures are continuously exposed to drug, but affects primarily ring stages when assessed for irreversible effects, ie, sustained inhibition remaining after drug removal. On the other hand, the hydrophilic and poorly permeant desferrioxamine (DFO) affects primarily trophozoite/schizont stages when tested either in the continuous mode or irreversible mode. Unlike parasites, mammalian cells subjected to similar drug treatment show complete growth recovery once drugs are removed. Our studies indicate that parasites display a limited capacity to recover from intracellular iron depletion evoked by iron chelators. Based on these findings we provide a working model in which the irreversible effects of RSFs on rings are explained by the absence of pathways for iron acquisition/utilization by early forms of parasites. Trophozoite/schizonts can partially recover from RSFileum2 treatments, but show no DNA synthesis following DFO treatment even after drug removal and iron replenishment by permeant iron carriers. At trophozoite stage, the parasite uses a limited pathway for refurnishing its iron-containing enzymes, thus overcoming iron deprivation caused by permeant RSFileum2, but not by DFO because this latter drug is not easily removable from parasites. Their DNA synthesis is blocked by the hydroxamate iron chelators probably by affecting synthesis of ribonucleotide reductase (RNRase). Presumably in parasites, prolonged repression of the enzyme leads also to irreversible loss of activity. The action profiles of RSFileum2 and DFO presented in this study have implications for improved chemotherapeutic performance by combined drug treatment and future drug design based on specific intervention at parasite DNA synthesis.

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