The design of novel antifolates against pneumocystis carinii

  • Keith S. Philip

Student thesis: Doctoral ThesisDoctor of Philosophy


The pneumonia caused by Pneumocystis carinii is ultimately responsible for the death of many acquired immunodeficiency syndrome (AIDS) patients. Large doses of trimethoprim and pyrimethamine in combination with a sulphonamide and/or pentamidine suppress the infection but produce serious side-effects and seldom prevent recurrence after treatment withdrawal. However, the partial success of the aforementioned antifolates, and also trimetrexate used alone, does suggest dihydrofolate reductase (DHFR) as a target for the development of antipneumocystis agents.
From the DHFR inhibitory activities of 3'-substituted pyrimethamine analogues it was suggested that the 3'-(3'',3''-dimethyltriazen-1''-yl) substituent may be responsible for the greater activity for the P.carinii over the mammalian enzyme. Crystallographic and molecular modeling studies revealed considerable geometrical and electronic differences between the triazene and the chemically related formamidine functions that may account for the differences in DHFR inhibitory profiles.
Structural and electronic parameters calculated for a series of 3'-(3'',3''-disubstitutedtriazen-1''-yl) pyrimethamine analogues did not correlate with the DHFR inhibitory activities. However, the in vitro screening against P.carinii DHFR revealed that the 3''-hydroxyethyl-3''-benzyl analogue was the most active and selective.
Models of the active sites of human and P.carinii DHFRs were constructed using DHFR sequence and structural homology data which had identified key residues involved in substrate and cofactor binding. Low energy conformations of the 3'',3''-dimethyl and 3''-hydroxyethyl-3''-benzyle analogues, determined from nuclear magnetic resonance studies and theoretical calculations, were docked by superimposing the diaminopyrimidine fragment onto a previously docked pyrimethamine analogue. Enzyme kinetic data supported the 3''-hydroxyethyl-3''-benzyl moiety being located in the NADPH binding groove. The 3''-benzyl substituent was able to locate to within 3 AA of a valine residue in the active site of P.carinii DHFR thereby producing a hydrophobic contact. The equivalent residue in human DHFR is threonine, more hydrophilic and less likely to be involved in such a contact. This difference may account for the greater inhibitory activity this analogue has for P.carinii DHFR and provide a basis for future drug design.
From an in vivo model of PCP in immunosuppressed rats it was established that the 3"-hydroxyethyl-3"-benzyl analogue was able to reduce the.P.carinii burden more effectively with increasing doses, without causmg any visible signs of toxicity.
However, equivalent doses were not as effective as pentamidine, a current treatment of choice for Pneumocystis carinii pneumonia.
Date of AwardJan 1994
Original languageEnglish
SupervisorCarl H Schwalbe (Supervisor) & Peter Lambert (Supervisor)


  • pneumocystis carinii
  • dihydrofolate reductase
  • molecular modeling
  • computer-aided drug design
  • pyrimethamine analogue

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