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Functional Assessment of 2,177 U.S. and International Drugs Identifies the Quinoline Nitroxoline as a Potent Amoebicidal Agent against the Pathogen Balamuthia mandrillaris


Balamuthia mandrillaris is a pathogenic free-living amoeba that causes a rare but almost always fatal infection of the central nervous system called granulomatous amoebic encephalitis (GAE). Two distinct forms of B. mandrillaris-a proliferative trophozoite form and a nonproliferative cyst form, which is highly resistant to harsh physical and chemical conditions-have been isolated from environmental samples worldwide and are both observed in infected tissue. Patients suffering from GAE are typically treated with aggressive and prolonged multidrug regimens that often include the antimicrobial agents miltefosine and pentamidine isethionate. However, survival rates remain low, and studies evaluating the susceptibility of B. mandrillaris to these compounds and other potential therapeutics are limited. To address the need for more-effective treatments, we screened 2,177 clinically approved compounds for in vitro activity against B. mandrillaris The quinoline antibiotic nitroxoline (8-hydroxy-5-nitroquinoline), which has safely been used in humans to treat urinary tract infections, was identified as a lead compound. We show that nitroxoline inhibits both trophozoites and cysts at low micromolar concentrations, which are within a pharmacologically relevant range. We compared the in vitro efficacy of nitroxoline to that of drugs currently used in the standard of care for GAE and found that nitroxoline is the most potent and selective inhibitor of B. mandrillaris tested. Furthermore, we demonstrate that nitroxoline prevents B. mandrillaris-mediated destruction of host cells in cultured fibroblast and primary brain explant models also at pharmacologically relevant concentrations. Taken together, our findings indicate that nitroxoline is a promising candidate for repurposing as a novel treatment of B. mandrillaris infections.IMPORTANCEBalamuthia mandrillaris is responsible for hundreds of reported cases of amoebic encephalitis, the majority of which have been fatal. Despite being an exceptionally deadly pathogen, B. mandrillaris is understudied, leaving many open questions regarding epidemiology, diagnosis, and treatment. Due to the lack of effective drugs to fight B. mandrillaris infections, mortality rates remain high even for patients receiving intensive care. This report addresses the need for new treatment options through a drug repurposing screen to identify novel B. mandrillaris inhibitors. The most promising candidate identified was the quinoline antibiotic nitroxoline, which has a long history of safe use in humans. We show that nitroxoline kills B. mandrillaris at pharmacologically relevant concentrations and exhibits greater potency and selectivity than drugs commonly used in the current standard of care. The findings that we present demonstrate the potential of nitroxoline to be an important new tool in the treatment of life-threatening B. mandrillaris infections.

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