Most malaria deaths are caused by the protozoan parasite
Plasmodium falciparum. Its life cycle is regulated by a cGMP-dependent protein kinase ( PfPKG), whose inhibition is a promising antimalaria strategy. Allosteric kinase inhibitors, such as cGMP analogs, offer enhanced selectivity relative to competitive kinase inhibitors. However, the mechanisms underlying allosteric PfPKG inhibition are incompletely understood. Here, we show that 8-NBD-cGMP is an effective PfPKG antagonist. Using comparative NMR analyses of a key regulatory domain, PfD, in its apo, cGMP-bound, and cGMP analog–bound states, we elucidated its inhibition mechanism of action. Using NMR chemical shift analyses, molecular dynamics simulations, and site-directed mutagenesis, we show that 8-NBD-cGMP inhibits PfPKG not simply by reverting a two-state active versusinactive equilibrium, but by sampling also a distinct inactive “mixed” intermediate. Surface plasmon resonance indicates that the ability to stabilize a mixed intermediate provides a means to effectively inhibit PfPKG, without losing affinity for the cGMP analog. Our proposed model may facilitate the rational design of PfPKG-selective inhibitors for improved management of malaria.