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The development of chemotherapies against eukaryotic pathogens is especially challenging because of both the evolutionary conservation of drug targets between host and parasite, and the evolution of strain-dependent drug resistance. There is a strong need for new nontoxic drugs with broad-spectrum activity against trypanosome parasites such as Leishmania and Trypanosoma. A relatively untested approach is to target macromolecular interactions in parasites rather than small molecular interactions, under the hypothesis that the features specifying macromolecular interactions diverge more rapidly through coevolution. We computed tRNA Class-Informative Features in humans and independently in eight distinct clades of trypanosomes, identifying parasite-specific informative features, including base pairs and base mis-pairs, that are broadly conserved over approximately 250 million years of trypanosome evolution. Validating these observations, we demonstrated biochemically that tRNA:aminoacyl-tRNA synthetase (aaRS) interactions are a promising target for anti-trypanosomal drug discovery. From a marine natural products extract library, we identified several fractions with inhibitory activity toward Leishmania major alanyl-tRNA synthetase (AlaRS) but no activity against the human homolog. These marine natural products extracts showed cross-reactivity towards Trypanosoma cruzi AlaRS indicating the broad-spectrum potential of our network predictions. We also identified Leishmania major threonyl-tRNA synthetase (ThrRS) inhibitors from the same library. We discuss why chemotherapies targeting multiple aaRSs should be less prone to the evolution of resistance than monotherapeutic or synergistic combination chemotherapies targeting only one aaRS.


This article was originally published in PLOS Neglected Tropical Diseases, volume 14, in 2020.


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