The parasitic protozoa, Trypanosoma brucei and Trypanosoma cruzi, are the cause of major morbidity and mortality in Africa and South America, yet the available anti-trypanosomal drugs have limited effectiveness. A successful method for the development of new drugs to combat infectious diseases has been to take a structure-based approach to designing new inhibitors of protein function, followed by generation of these leads into clinically useful drugs. However, application of this method requires a detailed knowledge of the target proteins structure and function. We have identified three drug targets, ornithine decarboxylase (ODC), S-adenosylmethionine decarboxylase (SAMDC) and gamma-glutamylcysteine synthetase (gammaGCS), which are essential for the biosynthesis of the polyamines, putrescine, spermidine and trypanothione. Data supporting all three enzymes as valid drug targets for the treatment of these parasites has been reported. Alpha- difluoromethylornithine (DFMO), an inhibitor of ODC is used clinically for the treatment of African sleeping sickness, while inhibitors of both gammaGCS and SAMDC cure T. brucei infections in mice. While this data is conclusive for ODC, only limited studies have been carried our for gammaGCS. Our goals are the detailed mechanistic and structural characterization of these enzymes. We recently solved the X-ray structure of T. brucei ODC and plan to continue our analysis by solving the structure of wild-type ODC bound to inhibitors. The structural basis for dimer formation, substrate binding and catalysis will be studied by site-directed mutagenesis and biophysical analysis of the mutant enzymes. Structure-based computational methods will be used to develop design strategies for novel ODC inhibitors. Studies on T. brucei and T. cruzi SAMDC will focus on kinetic analysis and initiation of X-ray structure determination. In addition, the regulatory mechanisms which control SAMDC expression in T. brucei will be characterized. To validate gammaGCS as a drug target, a knockout mutant of gammaGCS will be generated in T. brucei. The knockout strain will allow us to determine if the enzyme is required for cell viability and to study the regulatory mechanisms which control the levels of polyamines and trypanothione in T. brucei cells. Additional studies on gammaGCS will include kinetic analysis of the T. cruzi and T. brucei enzymes, including testing of a series of inhibitors. Studies to search for a possible regulatory subunit of the parasite enzyme are also planned. The results of these studies will be applied to the design of species selective inhibitors of these enzymes, while also contributing to our fundamental understanding of how structure dictates protein function.

National Institute of Health (NIH)
National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases (NIAID)
Research Project (R01)
Project #
Application #
Study Section
Tropical Medicine and Parasitology Study Section (TMP)
Program Officer
Gottlieb, Michael
Project Start
Project End
Budget Start
Budget End
Support Year
Fiscal Year
Total Cost
Indirect Cost
University of Texas Sw Medical Center Dallas
Schools of Medicine
United States
Zip Code
Afanador, Gustavo A; Tomchick, Diana R; Phillips, Margaret A (2018) Trypanosomatid Deoxyhypusine Synthase Activity Is Dependent on Shared Active-Site Complementation between Pseudoenzyme Paralogs. Structure 26:1499-1512.e5
Volkov, Oleg A; Brockway, Anthony J; Wring, Stephen A et al. (2018) Species-Selective Pyrimidineamine Inhibitors of Trypanosoma brucei S-Adenosylmethionine Decarboxylase. J Med Chem 61:1182-1203
Xiao, Yanjing; Nguyen, Suong; Kim, Sok Ho et al. (2013) Product feedback regulation implicated in translational control of the Trypanosoma brucei S-adenosylmethionine decarboxylase regulatory subunit prozyme. Mol Microbiol 88:846-61
Velez, Nahir; Brautigam, Chad A; Phillips, Margaret A (2013) Trypanosoma brucei S-adenosylmethionine decarboxylase N terminus is essential for allosteric activation by the regulatory subunit prozyme. J Biol Chem 288:5232-40
Hanfrey, Colin C; Pearson, Bruce M; Hazeldine, Stuart et al. (2011) Alternative spermidine biosynthetic route is critical for growth of Campylobacter jejuni and is the dominant polyamine pathway in human gut microbiota. J Biol Chem 286:43301-12
Kalidas, Savitha; Li, Qiong; Phillips, Margaret A (2011) A Gateway® compatible vector for gene silencing in bloodstream form Trypanosoma brucei. Mol Biochem Parasitol 178:51-5
Jacobs, Robert T; Nare, Bakela; Phillips, Margaret A (2011) State of the art in African trypanosome drug discovery. Curr Top Med Chem 11:1255-74
Shaw, Frances L; Elliott, Katherine A; Kinch, Lisa N et al. (2010) Evolution and multifarious horizontal transfer of an alternative biosynthetic pathway for the alternative polyamine sym-homospermidine. J Biol Chem 285:14711-23
Klee, Nina; Wong, Pui Ee; Baraga├▒a, Beatriz et al. (2010) Selective delivery of 2-hydroxy APA to Trypanosoma brucei using the melamine motif. Bioorg Med Chem Lett 20:4364-6
Deng, Xiaoyi; Lee, Jeongmi; Michael, Anthony J et al. (2010) Evolution of substrate specificity within a diverse family of beta/alpha-barrel-fold basic amino acid decarboxylases: X-ray structure determination of enzymes with specificity for L-arginine and carboxynorspermidine. J Biol Chem 285:25708-19

Showing the most recent 10 out of 49 publications