Targeting pathogen metabolism without collateral damage to the host

Jurgen R Haanstra, Albert Gerding, Amalia M Dolga, Freek J H Sorgdrager, Manon Buist-Homan, François du Toit, Klaas Nico Faber, Hermann-Georg Holzhütter, Balázs Szöör, Keith R Matthews, Jacob Snoep, Hans V Westerhoff, Barbara M Bakker

    Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


    The development of drugs that can inactivate disease-causing cells (e.g. cancer cells or parasites) without causing collateral damage to healthy or to host cells is complicated by the fact that many proteins are very similar between organisms. Nevertheless, due to subtle, quantitative differences between the biochemical reaction networks of target cell and host, a drug can limit the flux of the same essential process in one organism more than in another. We identified precise criteria for this 'network-based' drug selectivity, which can serve as an alternative or additive to structural differences. We combined computational and experimental approaches to compare energy metabolism in the causative agent of sleeping sickness, Trypanosoma brucei, with that of human erythrocytes, and identified glucose transport and glyceraldehyde-3-phosphate dehydrogenase as the most selective antiparasitic targets. Computational predictions were validated experimentally in a novel parasite-erythrocytes co-culture system. Glucose-transport inhibitors killed trypanosomes without killing erythrocytes, neurons or liver cells.

    Original languageEnglish
    Pages (from-to)40406
    JournalScientific Reports
    Publication statusPublished - 13 Jan 2017


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