The leishmaniases are a complex of neglected tropical diseases caused by more than 20 Leishmania parasite species, for which available therapeutic arsenal is scarce and unsatisfactory. Pentavalent antimonials (SbV) are currently the first-line pharmacologic therapy for leishmaniasis worldwide, but resistance to these compounds is increasingly reported. Alkyl-lysophospoholipid analogs (ALPs) constitute a family of compounds with antileishmanial activity, and one of its members, miltefosine, has been approved as the first oral treatment for visceral and cutaneous leishmaniasis. However, its clinical use can be challenged by less impressive efficiency in patients infected with some Leishmania species, including L. braziliensis and L. mexicana, and by proneness to develop drug resistance in vitro.
We found that ALPs ranked edelfosine>perifosine>miltefosine>erucylphosphocholine for their antileishmanial activity and capacity to promote apoptosis-like parasitic cell death in promastigote and amastigote forms of distinct Leishmania spp., as assessed by proliferation and flow cytometry assays. Effective antileishmanial ALP concentrations were dependent on both the parasite species and their development stage. Edelfosine accumulated in and killed intracellular Leishmania parasites within macrophages. In vivo antileishmanial activity was demonstrated following oral treatment with edelfosine of mice and hamsters infected with L. major, L. panamensis or L. braziliensis, without any significant side-effect. Edelfosine also killed SbV-resistant Leishmania parasites in in vitro and in vivo assays, and required longer incubation times than miltefosine to generate drug resistance.
Our data reveal that edelfosine is the most potent ALP in killing different Leishmania spp., and it is less prone to lead to drug resistance development than miltefosine. Edelfosine is effective in killing Leishmania in culture and within macrophages, as well as in animal models infected with different Leishmania spp. and SbV-resistant parasites. Our results indicate that edelfosine is a promising orally administered antileishmanial drug for clinical evaluation.
Leishmaniasis represents a major international health problem, has a high morbidity and mortality rate, and is classified as an emerging and uncontrolled disease by the World Health Organization. The migration of population from endemic to nonendemic areas, and tourist activities in endemic regions are spreading the disease to new areas. Unfortunately, treatment of leishmaniasis is far from satisfactory, with only a few drugs available that show significant side-effects. Here, we show in vitro and in vivo evidence for the antileishmanial activity of the ether phospholipid edelfosine, being effective against a wide number of Leishmania spp. causing cutaneous, mucocutaneous and visceral leishmaniasis. Our experimental mouse and hamster models demonstrated not only a significant antileishmanial activity of edelfosine oral administration against different wild-type Leishmania spp., but also against parasites resistant to pentavalent antimonials, which constitute the first line of treatment worldwide. In addition, edelfosine exerted a higher antileishmanial activity and a lower proneness to generate drug resistance than miltefosine, the first drug against leishmaniasis that can be administered orally. These data, together with our previous findings, showing an anti-inflammatory action and a very low toxicity profile, suggest that edelfosine is a promising orally administered drug for leishmaniasis, thus warranting clinical evaluation.