Newly identified antibacterial compounds are topoisomerase poisons in African trypanosomes

Sonya C. Tang, Theresa A. Shapiro

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

10 Scopus citations


Human African trypanosomiasis, caused by the Trypanosoma brucei protozoan parasite, is fatal when left untreated. Current therapies are antiquated, and there is a need for new pharmacologic agents against T. brucei targets that have no human ortholog. Trypanosomes have a single mitochondrion with a unique mitochondrial DNA, known as kinetoplast DNA (kDNA), a topologically complex network that contains thousands of interlocking circular DNAs, termed minicircles (∼1 kb) and maxicircles (∼23 kb). Replication of kDNA depends on topoisomerases, enzymes that catalyze reactions that change DNA topology. T. brucei has an unusual type IA topoisomerase that is dedicated to kDNA metabolism. This enzyme has no ortholog in humans, and RNA interference (RNAi) studies have shown that it is essential for parasite survival, making it an ideal drug target. In a large chemical library screen, two compounds were recently identified as poisons of bacterial topoisomerase IA. We found that these compounds are trypanocidal in the low micromolar range and that they promote the formation of linearized minicircles covalently bound to protein on the 5′ end, consistent with the poisoning of mitochondrial topoisomerase IA. Surprisingly, however, band depletion studies showed that it is topoisomerase IImt, and not topoisomerase IAmt, that is trapped. Both compounds are planar aromatic polycyclic structures that intercalate into and unwind DNA. These findings reinforce the utility of topoisomerase IImt as a target for development of new drugs for African sleeping sickness.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)620-626
Number of pages7
JournalAntimicrobial agents and chemotherapy
Issue number2
StatePublished - Feb 2010

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Pharmacology
  • Pharmacology (medical)
  • Infectious Diseases


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