Advances in omics-based methods to identify novel targets for malaria and other parasitic protozoan infections.

22 Oct 2019
Cowell AN, Winzeler EA

A major advance in antimalarial drug discovery has been the shift towards cell-based phenotypic screening, with notable progress in the screening of compounds against the asexual blood stage, liver stage, and gametocytes. A primary method for drug target deconvolution in Plasmodium falciparum is in vitro evolution of compound-resistant parasites followed by whole-genome scans. Several of the most promising antimalarial drug targets, such as translation elongation factor 2 (eEF2) and phenylalanine tRNA synthetase (PheRS), have been identified or confirmed using this method. One drawback of this method is that if a mutated gene is uncharacterized, a substantial effort may be required to determine whether it is a drug target, a drug resistance gene, or if the mutation is merely a background mutation. Thus, the availability of high-throughput, functional genomic datasets can greatly assist with target deconvolution. Studies mapping genome-wide essentiality in P. falciparum or performing transcriptional profiling of the host and parasite during liver-stage infection with P. berghei have identified potentially druggable pathways. Advances in mapping the epigenomic regulation of the malaria parasite genome have also enabled the identification of key processes involved in parasite development. In addition, the examination of the host genome during infection has identified novel gene candidates associated with susceptibility to severe malaria. Here, we review recent studies that have used omics-based methods to identify novel targets for interventions against protozoan parasites, focusing on malaria, and we highlight the advantages and limitations of the approaches used. These approaches have also been extended to other protozoan pathogens, including Toxoplasma, Trypanosoma, and Leishmania spp., and these studies highlight how drug discovery efforts against these pathogens benefit from the utilization of diverse omics-based methods to identify promising drug targets.