Human African trypanosomiasis (HAT) is a parasitic disease affecting sub-Saharan Africa. The parasites are able to traverse the blood-brain barrier (BBB), which marks stage 2 (S2) of the disease. Delivery of anti-parasitic drugs across the BBB is key to treating S2 effectively and the difficulty in achieving this goal is likely to be a reason why some drugs require highly intensive treatment regimes to be effective. This study aimed to investigate not only the drug transport mechanisms utilised by nifurtimox at the BBB, but also the impact of nifurtimox-eflornithine combination therapy (NECT) and other anti-HAT drug combination therapies (CTs) on radiolabelled-nifurtimox delivery in an in vitro model of drug accumulation and the human BBB, the hCMEC/D3 cell line. We found that nifurtimox appeared to use several membrane transporters, in particular breast-cancer resistance protein (BCRP), to exit the BBB cells. The addition of eflornithine caused no change in the accumulation of nifurtimox, nor did the addition of clinically relevant doses of the other anti-HAT drugs suramin, nifurtimox or melarsoprol, but a significant increase was observed with the addition of pentamidine. The results provide evidence that anti-HAT drugs are interacting with membrane transporters at the human BBB and suggest that combination with known transport inhibitors could potentially improve their efficacy.
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