Griseofulvin impairs intraerythrocytic growth of Plasmodium falciparum through ferrochelatase inhibition but lacks activity in an experimental human infection study

Clare M. Smith, Ante Jerkovic, Thy Thuc Truong, Simon J. Foote, James S. McCarthy, Brendan J. McMorran*

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

7 Citations (Scopus)
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Griseofulvin, an orally active antifungal drug used to treat dermatophyte infections, has a secondary effect of inducing cytochrome P450-mediated production of N-methyl protoporphyrin IX (N-MPP). N-MPP is a potent competitive inhibitor of the heme biosynthetic-enzyme ferrochelatase, and inhibits the growth of cultured erythrocyte stage Plasmodium falciparum. Novel drugs against Plasmodium are needed to achieve malaria elimination. Thus, we investigated whether griseofulvin shows anti-plasmodial activity. We observed that the intraerythrocytic growth of P. falciparum is inhibited in red blood cells pretreated with griseofulvin in vitro. Treatment with 100 μM griseofulvin was sufficient to prevent parasite growth and induce the production of N-MPP. Inclusion of the ferrochelatase substrate PPIX blocked the inhibitory activity of griseofulvin, suggesting that griseofulvin exerts its activity through the N-MPP-dependent inhibition of ferrochelatase. In an ex-vivo study, red blood cells from griseofulvin-treated subjects were refractory to the growth of cultured P. falciparum. However, in a clinical trial griseofulvin failed to show either therapeutic or prophylactic effect in subjects infected with blood stage P. falciparum. Although the development of griseofulvin as an antimalarial is not warranted, it represents a novel inhibitor of P. falciparum growth and acts via the N-MPP-dependent inhibition of ferrochelatase.

Original languageEnglish
Article number41975
Pages (from-to)1-11
Number of pages11
JournalScientific Reports
Publication statusPublished - 8 Feb 2017

Bibliographical note

Copyright the Author(s) 2017. Version archived for private and non-commercial use with the permission of the author/s and according to publisher conditions. For further rights please contact the publisher.


  • Antiparasitic agents
  • Malaria


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