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Antimicrob Agents Chemother. 2007 Apr;51(4):1327-32. Epub 2007 Feb 5.

Miltefosine (hexadecylphosphocholine) inhibits cytochrome c oxidase in Leishmania donovani promastigotes.

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Centro de Investigaciones Biológicas (C.S.I.C.), Ramiro de Maeztu 9, E-28040 Madrid, Spain.


Miltefosine (hexadecylphosphocholine [HePC]) is currently on trial as a first-choice, orally active drug for the treatment of visceral leishmaniasis when resistance to organic pentavalent antimonials becomes epidemic. However, data on the targets involved in its leishmanicidal mechanism have, until now, been only fragmentary. We have carried out a systematic study of the alterations induced on the bioenergetic metabolism of Leishmania donovani promastigotes by HePC. Overnight incubation with HePC caused a significant decline in the intracellular ATP levels of the parasites, together with a reduction in the oxygen consumption rate and mitochondrial depolarization, while the integrity of the plasma membrane remained undamaged. In a further step, the effects of HePC on the respiratory chain were addressed in digitonized parasites. The inhibition of the oxygen consumption rate caused by HePC was not reverted either with the uncoupling agent carbonyl cyanide p-trifluoromethoxyphenylhydrazone or with tetramethyl-p-phenylenediamine plus ascorbate, which feeds the electron transport chain at the level of cytochrome c. These results suggest that cytochrome c oxidase is a likely target in the complex leishmanicidal mechanism of HePC. This was further confirmed from the finding that this enzyme was specifically inhibited in a dose-dependent manner by HePC, but not the cytochrome c reductase, ruling out an unspecific effect of HePC on the respiratory chain.

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