A cysteine protease inhibitor cures Chagas' disease in an immunodeficient-mouse model of infection

Antimicrob Agents Chemother. 2007 Nov;51(11):3932-9. doi: 10.1128/AAC.00436-07. Epub 2007 Aug 13.


Chagas' disease, caused by the parasite Trypanosoma cruzi, remains the leading cause of cardiopathy in Latin America with about 12 million people infected. Classic clinical manifestations derive from infection of muscle cells leading to progressive cardiomyopathy, while some patients develop megacolon or megaesophagus. A very aggressive clinical course including fulminant meningoencephalitis has been reported in patients who contract Chagas' disease in the background of immunodeficiency. This includes patients with human immunodeficiency virus infection as well as patients receiving immunosuppressive therapy for organ transplant. Currently, only two drugs are approved for the treatment of Chagas' disease, nifurtimox and benznidazole. Both have significant limitations due to common and serious side effects as well as limited availability. A promising group of new drug leads for Chagas' disease is cysteine protease inhibitors targeting cruzain, the major protease of T. cruzi. The inhibitor N-methyl-Pip-F-homoF-vinyl sulfonyl phenyl (N-methyl-Pip-F-hF-VS phi) is in late-stage preclinical development. Therefore, the question arose as to whether protease inhibitors targeting cruzain would have efficacy in Chagas' disease occurring in the background of immunodeficiency. To address this question, we studied the course of infection in recombinase-deficient (Rag1(-/-)) and normal mice infected with T. cruzi. Infections localized to heart and skeletal muscle in untreated normal animals, while untreated Rag1(-/-) mice showed severe infection in all organs and predominantly in liver and spleen. Treatment with the dipeptide N-methyl-Pip-F-hF-VS phi rescued immunodeficient animals from lethal Chagas' infection. The majority (60 to 100%) of inhibitor-treated Rag1(-/-) mice had increased survival, negative PCR, and normal tissues by histopathological examination.

Publication types

  • Research Support, N.I.H., Extramural

MeSH terms

  • Animals
  • Cattle
  • Cells, Cultured
  • Chagas Disease / drug therapy*
  • Chagas Disease / genetics
  • Chagas Disease / pathology
  • Cysteine Endopeptidases
  • Cysteine Proteinase Inhibitors / pharmacology*
  • Disease Models, Animal
  • Female
  • Homeodomain Proteins / genetics*
  • Homeodomain Proteins / metabolism
  • Humans
  • Mice
  • Mice, Inbred C3H
  • Mice, Inbred C57BL
  • Mice, Knockout
  • Nifurtimox / pharmacology
  • Nitroimidazoles / pharmacology
  • Protozoan Proteins / antagonists & inhibitors
  • Survival Analysis
  • Trypanocidal Agents / pharmacology
  • Trypanosoma cruzi / drug effects*


  • Cysteine Proteinase Inhibitors
  • Homeodomain Proteins
  • Nitroimidazoles
  • Protozoan Proteins
  • Trypanocidal Agents
  • RAG-1 protein
  • Cysteine Endopeptidases
  • cruzain, Trypanosoma cruzi
  • Nifurtimox
  • benzonidazole