Combined ivermectin and doxycycline treatment has microfilaricidal and adulticidal activity against Dirofilaria immitis in experimentally infected dogs

Int J Parasitol. 2008 Oct;38(12):1401-10. doi: 10.1016/j.ijpara.2008.03.002. Epub 2008 Mar 21.


There is still a pressing need for effective adulticide treatment for human and animal filarial infections. Like many filarial nematodes, Dirofilaria immitis, the causative agent of canine heartworm disease, harbours the bacterial endosymbiont Wolbachia, which has been shown to be essential for worm development, fecundity and survival. Here the authors report the effect of different treatment regimens in dogs experimentally infected with adult D. immitis on microfilariemia, antigenemia, worm recovery and Wolbachia content. Treatment with ivermectin (IVM; 6 microg/kg per os weekly) combined with doxycycline (DOXY; 10 mg/kg/day orally from Weeks 0-6, 10-12, 16-18, 22-26 and 28-34) resulted in a significantly faster decrease of circulating microfilariae and higher adulticidal activity compared with either IVM or DOXY alone. Quantitative PCR analysis of ftsZ (Wolbachia DNA) and 18S rDNA (nematode DNA) absolute copy numbers showed significant decreases in Wolbachia content compared with controls in worms recovered from DOXY-treated dogs that were not, however, associated with worm death. Worms from IVM/DOXY-treated dogs, on the other hand, had Wolbachia/nematode DNA ratios similar to those of control worms, suggesting a loss of both Wolbachia and nematode DNA as indicated by absolute copy number values. Histology and transmission electron microscopy of worms recovered from the IVM/DOXY combination group showed complete loss of uterine content in females and immunohistochemistry for Wolbachia was negative. Results indicate that the combination of these two drugs causes adult worm death. This could have important implications for control of human and animal filarial infections.

MeSH terms

  • Animals
  • Anti-Bacterial Agents / therapeutic use*
  • Antigens, Helminth / immunology
  • Dirofilaria immitis / drug effects*
  • Dirofilaria immitis / immunology
  • Dirofilariasis / drug therapy*
  • Dirofilariasis / immunology
  • Dog Diseases / drug therapy
  • Dogs
  • Doxycycline / immunology
  • Doxycycline / therapeutic use*
  • Filaricides / immunology
  • Filaricides / therapeutic use*
  • Immunohistochemistry
  • Ivermectin / therapeutic use*
  • Microfilariae / isolation & purification
  • Polymerase Chain Reaction
  • Wolbachia / drug effects
  • Wolbachia / isolation & purification


  • Anti-Bacterial Agents
  • Antigens, Helminth
  • Filaricides
  • Ivermectin
  • Doxycycline