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Sphingolipids (SLs) are an integral part of all eukaryotic cellular membranes. In addition, they have indispensable functions as signalling molecules controlling a myriad of cellular events. Disruption of either the de novo synthesis or the degradation pathways has been shown to have detrimental effects. The earlier identification of selective inhibitors of fungal SL biosynthesis promised potent broad-spectrum anti-fungal agents, which later encouraged testing some of those agents against protozoan parasites. In this review we focus on the key enzymes of the SL de novo biosynthetic pathway in protozoan parasites of the Apicomplexa and Kinetoplastidae, outlining the divergence and interconnection between host and pathogen metabolism. The druggability of the SL biosynthesis is considered, alongside recent technology advances that will enable the dissection and analyses of this pathway in the parasitic protozoa. The future impact of these advances for the development of new therapeutics for both globally threatening and neglected infectious diseases is potentially profound.
Toxoplasma gondii is an obligate intracellular protozoan parasite of the phylum Apicomplexa, and toxoplasmosis is an important disease of both humans and economically important animals. With a limited array of drugs available there is a need to identify new therapeutic compounds. Aureobasidin A (AbA) is an antifungal that targets the essential inositol phosphorylceramide (IPC, sphingolipid) synthase in pathogenic fungi. This natural cyclic depsipeptide also inhibits Toxoplasma proliforation, with the protozoan IPC synthase orthologue proposed as the target. The data presented here show that neither AbA nor an analogue (Compound 20), target the protozoan IPC synthase orthologue or total parasite sphingolipid synthesis. However, further analyses confirm that AbA exhibits significant activity against the proliferative tachyzoite form of Toxoplasma, and Compound 20, whilst effective, has reduced efficacy. This difference was more evident on analyses of the direct effect of these compounds against isolated Toxoplasma, indicating that AbA is rapidly microbicidal. Importantly, the possibility of targeting the encysted, bradyzoite, form of the parasite with AbA and Compound 20 was demonstrated, indicating that this class of compounds may provide the basis for the first effective treatment for chronic toxoplasmosis.
Many Neglected Tropical Diseases (NTDs) have recently been subject of increased focus, particularly with relation to high-throughput screening (HTS) initiatives. These vital endeavours largely rely of two approaches, in vitro target-directed screening using biochemical assays or cell-based screening which takes no account of the target or targets being hit. Despite their successes both of these approaches have limitations; for example, the production of soluble protein and a lack of cellular context or the problems and expense of parasite cell culture. In addition, both can be challenging to miniaturize for ultra (u)HTS and expensive to utilize. Yeast-based systems offer a cost-effective approach to study and screen protein targets in a direct-directed manner within a eukaryotic cellular context. In this review, we examine the utility and limitations of yeast cell-based, target-directed screening. In particular we focus on the currently under-explored possibility of using such formats in uHTS screening campaigns for NTDs.