The International Journal of Developmental Biology

Int. J. Dev. Biol. 63: 541 - 550 (2019)

Vol 63, Issue 8-9-10

Special Issue: The Dictyostelium model system

Dictyostelium discoideum as a pharmacological model system to study the mechanisms of medicinal drugs and natural products

Published: 11 December 2019

Judith Schaf, Joseph Damstra-Oddy and Robin S.B. Williams*

Centre for Biomedical Sciences, Department of Biological Sciences, Royal Holloway University of London, UK


Developing novel compounds for the treatment of diseases remains one of the highest priorities in biomedical research, where it is critical to identify their targets and how they work at a cellular level. Most studies in this area employ mammalian models, since rodents or non-human primates are seen as a good approximation for humans. However, using mammalian models can be problematic for a range of reasons, including high genetic redundancy and the essential role for many proteins in development. More importantly, it is very difficult to identify how compounds function at a cellular or molecular level in these models without a previously suggested mechanism or target. So how can we identify targets of medicinal compounds? In this review we outline the use of an innovative and tractable model system, Dictyostelium discoideum, to provide useful insight to the cellular and molecular functions of both therapeutic drugs and pharmacologically active natural products. We outline the advantages of using this model, and then provide a range of exemplar studies using D. discoideum in pharmacological research to demonstrate breakthroughs in understanding the action and effects of compounds, and the subsequent translational of these advances to mammalian models leading to potential improvements in societal health.


mechanism of action, natural product, drug discovery, pharmacogenomics, pharmacology

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