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PLoS Negl Trop Dis. 2011 Feb 15;5(2):e962. doi: 10.1371/journal.pntd.0000962.

Identification of small molecule lead compounds for visceral leishmaniasis using a novel ex vivo splenic explant model system.

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Department of Veterans Affairs Medical Center, Research Service, South Texas Veterans Health Care System, San Antonio, Texas, United States of America.



New drugs are needed to treat visceral leishmaniasis (VL) because the current therapies are toxic, expensive, and parasite resistance may weaken drug efficacy. We established a novel ex vivo splenic explant culture system from hamsters infected with luciferase-transfected Leishmania donovani to screen chemical compounds for anti-leishmanial activity.


THIS MODEL HAS ADVANTAGES OVER IN VITRO SYSTEMS IN THAT IT: 1) includes the whole cellular population involved in the host-parasite interaction; 2) is initiated at a stage of infection when the immunosuppressive mechanisms that lead to progressive VL are evident; 3) involves the intracellular form of Leishmania; 4) supports parasite replication that can be easily quantified by detection of parasite-expressed luciferase; 5) is adaptable to a high-throughput screening format; and 6) can be used to identify compounds that have both direct and indirect anti-parasitic activity. The assay showed excellent discrimination between positive (amphotericin B) and negative (vehicle) controls with a Z' Factor >0.8. A duplicate screen of 4 chemical libraries containing 4,035 compounds identified 202 hits (5.0%) with a Z score of <-1.96 (p<0.05). Eighty-four (2.1%) of the hits were classified as lead compounds based on the in vitro therapeutic index (ratio of the compound concentration causing 50% cytotoxicity in the HepG(2) cell line to the concentration that caused 50% reduction in the parasite load). Sixty-nine (82%) of the lead compounds were previously unknown to have anti-leishmanial activity. The most frequently identified lead compounds were classified as quinoline-containing compounds (14%), alkaloids (10%), aromatics (11%), terpenes (8%), phenothiazines (7%) and furans (5%).


The ex vivo splenic explant model provides a powerful approach to identify new compounds active against L. donovani within the pathophysiologic environment of the infected spleen. Further in vivo evaluation and chemical optimization of these lead compounds may generate new candidates for preclinical studies of treatment for VL.

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