Syk inhibitors interfere with erythrocyte membrane modification during P falciparum growth and suppress parasite egress

Antonella Pantaleo, Kristina R. Kesely, Maria Carmina Pau, Ioannis Tsamesidis, Evelin Schwarzer, Oleksii A. Skorokhod, Huynh D. Chien, Marta Ponzi, Lucia Bertuccini, Philip S. Low and Francesco M. Turrini

Key Points

  • Inhibitors of human Syk kinase suppress parasite egress.

  • Syk inhibitors prevent the tyrosine phosphorylation of band 3 in P falciparum parasitized red blood cells, reducing the release of microparticles.

Publisher's Note: There is an Inside Blood Commentary on this article in this issue.


Band 3 (also known as the anion exchanger, SLCA1, AE1) constitutes the major attachment site of the spectrin-based cytoskeleton to the erythrocyte’s lipid bilayer and thereby contributes critically to the stability of the red cell membrane. During the intraerythrocytic stage of Plasmodium falciparum’s lifecycle, band 3 becomes tyrosine phosphorylated in response to oxidative stress, leading to a decrease in its affinity for the spectrin/actin cytoskeleton and causing global membrane destabilization. Because this membrane weakening is hypothesized to facilitate parasite egress and the consequent dissemination of released merozoites throughout the bloodstream, we decided to explore which tyrosine kinase inhibitors might block the kinase-induced membrane destabilization. We demonstrate here that multiple Syk kinase inhibitors both prevent parasite-induced band 3 tyrosine phosphorylation and inhibit parasite-promoted membrane destabilization. We also show that the same Syk kinase inhibitors suppress merozoite egress near the end of the parasite’s intraerythrocytic lifecycle. Because the entrapped merozoites die when prevented from escaping their host erythrocytes and because some Syk inhibitors have displayed long-term safety in human clinical trials, we suggest Syk kinase inhibitors constitute a promising class of antimalarial drugs that can suppress parasitemia by inhibiting a host target that cannot be mutated by the parasite to evolve drug resistance.

  • Submitted November 4, 2016.
  • Accepted June 5, 2017.
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