Genetic screens reveal a central role for heme biosynthesis in artemisinin susceptibility

Clare R. Harding, Saima M. Sidik, Boryana Petrova, Nina F. Gnädig, John Okombo, Kurt E. Ward, Benedikt M. Markus, David A. Fidock, Sebastian Lourido

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Sep 16, 2019
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Received Date: 4th September 19

Artemisinins have revolutionized the treatment of Plasmodium falciparum malaria, however, resistance threatens to undermine global control efforts. To broadly explore artemisinin susceptibility in apicomplexan parasites, we used genome-scale CRISPR screens recently developed for Toxoplasma gondii to discover sensitizing and desensitizing mutationsUsing a sublethal concentration of dihydroartemisinin (DHA), we uncovered the putative porphyrin transporter Tmem14c whose disruption increases DHA susceptibility. Screens performed under high doses of DHA provided evidence that mitochondrial metabolism can modulate resistance. We show that disruption of a top candidate from the screens, the mitochondrial protease DegP2, lowered levels of free heme and decreased DHA susceptibility, without significantly altering fitness in culture. Deletion of the homologous gene in P. falciparum, PfDegP, similarly lowered heme levels and DHA susceptibility. These results expose the vulnerability of the heme biosynthetic pathway for genetic perturbations that can lead to survival in the presence of DHA. We also show that chemically reducing heme biosynthesis can decrease the sensitivity of both T. gondii and P. falciparum to DHA, suggesting guidelines for developing combination therapies.

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This is an abstract of a preprint hosted on an independent third party site. It has not been peer reviewed but is currently under consideration at Nature Communications.

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