Antimalarial activity of primaquine operates via a two-step biochemical relay

Grazia Camarda, Piyaporn Jirawatcharadech, Richard S. Priestley, Ahmed Saif, Sandra March, Michael H.L. Wong, Suet Leung, Alex B. Miller, David A. Baker, Pietro Alano, Mark J.I. Paine, Sangeeta N. Bhatia, Paul M. O’Neill, Stephen A. Ward, Giancarlo A. Biagini

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


Primaquine (PQ) is an essential antimalarial drug but despite being developed over 70 years ago, its mode of action is unclear. Here, we demonstrate that hydroxylated-PQ metabolites (OH-PQm) are responsible for efficacy against liver and sexual transmission stages of Plasmodium falciparum. The antimalarial activity of PQ against liver stages depends on host CYP2D6 status, whilst OH-PQm display direct, CYP2D6-independent, activity. PQ requires hepatic metabolism to exert activity against gametocyte stages. OH-PQm exert modest antimalarial efficacy against parasite gametocytes; however, potency is enhanced ca.1000 fold in the presence of cytochrome P450 NADPH:oxidoreductase (CPR) from the liver and bone marrow. Enhancement of OH-PQm efficacy is due to the direct reduction of quinoneimine metabolites by CPR with the concomitant and excessive generation of H2O2, leading to parasite killing. This detailed understanding of the mechanism paves the way to rationally re-designed 8-aminoquinolines with improved pharmacological profiles.

Original languageEnglish
Article number3226
JournalNature Communications
Issue number1
Publication statusPublished - Dec 1 2019


  • Plasmodium falciparum
  • Primaquine

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Chemistry(all)
  • Biochemistry, Genetics and Molecular Biology(all)
  • Physics and Astronomy(all)


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