Broad-Spectrum Inhibitors for Conserved Unique Phosphoethanolamine Methyltransferases in Parasitic Nematodes Possess Anthelmintic Efficacy

Xuejin Zhang, Leonor Sicalo Gianechini, Kun Li, Ray M. Kaplan, William H. Witola

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


In humans, nematode infections are prevalent in developing countries, causing long-term ill health, particularly in children. Worldwide, nematode infections are prevalent in livestock and pets, affecting productivity and health. Anthelmintic drugs are the primary means of controlling nematodes, but there is now high prevalence of anthelmintic resistance, requiring urgent identification of new molecular targets for anthelmintics with novel mechanisms of action. Here, we identified orthologous genes for phosphoethanolamine methyltransferases (PMTs) in nematodes within the families Trichostrongylidae, Dictyocaulidae, Chabertiidae, Ancylostomatoidea, and Ascarididae. We characterized these putative PMTs and found that they possess bona fide PMT catalytic activities. By complementing a mutant yeast strain lacking the ability to synthesize phosphatidylcholine, the PMTs were validated to catalyze the biosynthesis of phosphatidylcholine. Using an in vitro phosphoethanolamine methyltransferase assay with PMTs as enzymes, we identified compounds with cross-inhibitory effects against the PMTs. Corroboratively, treatment of PMT-complemented yeast with the PMT inhibitors blocked growth of the yeast, underscoring the essential role of the PMTs in phosphatidylcholine synthesis. Fifteen of the inhibitors with the highest activity against complemented yeast were tested against Haemonchus contortus using larval development and motility assays. Among them, four were found to possess potent anthelmintic activity against both multiple drug-resistant and susceptible isolates of H. contortus, with IC50 values (95% confidence interval) of 4.30 mM (2.15-8.28), 4.46 mM (3.22-6.16), 28.7 mM (17.3-49.5), and 0.65 mM (0.21-1.88). Taken together, we have validated a molecular target conserved in a broad range of nematodes and identified its inhibitors that possess potent in vitro anthelmintic activity.

Original languageEnglish (US)
JournalAntimicrobial Agents and Chemotherapy
Issue number6
StatePublished - Jun 2023


  • conserved enzymes
  • helminths
  • molecular targets
  • novel anthelmintics
  • phosphatidylcholine biosynthesis

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Pharmacology (medical)
  • Infectious Diseases
  • Pharmacology


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