Antimalarial action of artesunate involves DNA damage mediated by reactive oxygen species

Document Type

Journal Article

Publication Date



Antimicrobial Agents and Chemotherapy








© 2015 American Society for Microbiology. All Rights Reserved. Artemisinin-based combination therapy (ACT) is the recommended first-line treatment for Plasmodium falciparum malaria. It has been suggested that the cytotoxic effect of artemisinin is mediated by free radicals followed by the alkylation of P. falciparum proteins. The endoperoxide bridge, the active moiety of artemisinin derivatives, is cleaved in the presence of ferrous iron, generating reactive oxygen species (ROS) and other free radicals. However, the emergence of resistance to artemisinin in P. falciparum underscores the need for new insights into the molecular mechanisms of antimalarial activity of artemisinin. Here we show that artesunate (ART) induces DNA double-strand breaks in P. falciparum in a physiologically relevant dose- and time-dependent manner. DNA damage induced by ART was accompanied by an increase in the intracellular ROS level in the parasites. Mannitol, a ROS scavenger, reversed the cytotoxic effect of ART and reduced DNA damage, and modulation of glutathione (GSH) levels was found to impact ROS and DNA damage induced by ART. Accumulation of ROS, increased DNA damage, and the resulting antiparasite effect suggest a causal relationship between ROS, DNA damage, and parasite death. Finally, we also show that ARTinduced ROS production involves a potential role for NADPH oxidase, an enzyme involved in the production of superoxide anions. Our results with P. falciparum provide novel insights into previously unknown molecular mechanisms underlying the antimalarial activity of artemisinin derivatives and may help in the design of next-generation antimalarial drugs against the most virulent Plasmodium species.