Cell cycle inhibition to treat sleeping sickness

Conrad L Epting*, Brian T. Emmer, Nga Y. Du, Joann M. Taylor, Ming Y. Makanji, Cheryl L. Olson, David M. Engman

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

1 Scopus citations


African trypanosomiasis is caused by infection with the protozoan parasite Trypanosoma brucei. During infection, this pathogen divides rapidly to high density in the bloodstream of its mammalian host in a manner similar to that of leukemia. Like all eukaryotes, T. brucei has a cell cycle involving the de novo synthesis of DNA regulated by ribonucleotide reductase (RNR), which catalyzes the conversion of ribonucleotides into their deoxy form. As an essential enzyme for the cell cycle, RNR is a common target for cancer chemotherapy. We hypothesized that inhibition of RNR by genetic or pharmacological means would impair parasite growth in vitro and prolong the survival of infected animals. Our results demonstrate that RNR inhibition is highly effective in suppressing parasite growth both in vitro and in vivo. These results support drug discovery efforts targeting the cell cycle, not only for African trypanosomiasis but possibly also for other infections by eukaryotic pathogens. IMPORTANCE The development of drugs to treat infections with eukaryotic pathogens is challenging because many key virulence factors have closely related homo-logues in humans. Drug toxicity greatly limits these development efforts. For pathogens that replicate at a high rate, especially in the blood, an alternative approach is to target the cell cycle directly, much as is done to treat some hematologic malignancies. The results presented here indicate that targeting the cell cycle via inhibition of ribonucleotide reductase is effective at killing trypanosomes and prolonging the survival of infected animals.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Article numbere01427-17
Pages (from-to)1417-1427
Number of pages11
Issue number5
StatePublished - Sep 1 2017


  • African sleeping sickness
  • Hydroxyurea
  • Ribonucleotide reductase
  • Trypanosoma brucei

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Microbiology
  • Virology


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