Malaria remains one of the most serious tropical infectious diseases affecting mankind. The prevention of the disease is hampered by the increasing resistance of the parasite to existing chemotherapies. The need for novel therapeutic targets and drugs is therefore of the utmost importance and detailed knowledge of the biochemistry of the parasite is imperative. This study was directed at the biochemical characterisation of the polyamine metabolic pathway of P. falciparum in order to elucidate differences between the parasite and its human host that can be exploited in the design of novel antimalarials. The thesis focussed on the two rate-limiting enzymes in polyamine biosynthesis, S¬adenosylmethionine decarboxylase (AdoMetDC) and ornithine decarboxylase (ODC), which occur as a unique bifunctional complex in P. falciparum. The genomic structure of the bifunctional gene indicated a single, monocistronic transcript with large untranslated regions that were predicted to be involved in unique translational regulatory mechanisms. This gives rise to a bifunctional protein containing both decarboxylase activities on a single polypeptide forming a heterotetrameric complex. Activity of the decarboxylases decreases dramatically if these proteins are expressed in their monofunctional forms as homodimeric ODC and heterotetrameric AdoMetDC. The deduced amino acid sequence indicated that all the essential residues for catalysis are conserved and highlighted the presence of three parasite-specific insertions. The parasite-specific inserts were shown to be essential for the catalytic activity of the respective domains and also to influence the activity of the neighbouring domain, indicating that intramolecular communication exists in the heterotetrameric complex. The most structured and smallest insert was also shown to mediate protein-protein interactions between the two domains and to stabilise the complex. Further structure- functional characterisations of specifically the ODC domain were deduced from a comparative homology model. The model predicted an overall structure corresponding to those of other homologous proteins. The validity of the model is supported by mutagenesis results. However, certain parasite-specific properties were identified in the active site pocket and dimerisation interface. The former was exploited in the rational design of novel putative ODC inhibitors directed only against the P. falciparumprotein by in silico screening of chemical structure libraries. This study therefore describes the identification of certain parasite-specific properties in a unique bifunctional protein involved in regulation of polyamine metabolism of P. falciparum. Such discoveries are invaluable in strategies aimed at elucidating biochemical and metabolic differences between the parasite and its human host that could be exploited in the design of alternative, parasite-specific chemotherapies. Moreover, the thesis also contributed new knowledge on certain less well-understood biological phenomena characteristic of P. falciparum, the nature and origin of bifunctional proteins and the functional properties of parasite-specific inserts found in some proteins of the parasite.
Thesis (PhD (Biochemistry))--University of Pretoria, 2002.