Leishmaniasis, a protozoan parasitic disease that remains a major worldwide health problem with high endemicity in developing countries, is prevalent around the Mediterranean basin. High cost, systemic toxicity, and diminished efficacy due to development of parasite resistance are the serious drawbacks of current treatment options. Thus, identifying new, effective, and safer anti-leishmanial drug(s) is of paramount importance. Here we tested the anti-promastigote and anti-amastigote activity of five natural products, including oleuropein and hydroxytyrosol, present in olive tree leaves and olive mill wastewater. These products are recognized as low-cost starting materials rich in bioactive compounds, particularly biophenols. Oleuropein and hydroxytyrosol exhibited the best inhibitory effect among the natural products tested in both stationary and middle logarithmic phase promastigotes of L. infantum, L. donovani, and L. major. Similarly, oleuropein and hydroxytyrosol demonstrated the highest selectivity index ratio against L. donovani amastigotes that parasitize J774A.1 macrophages. Moreover, oleuropein was tested in vivo in an experimental visceral leishmaniasis model. L. donovani-infected BALB/c mice received intraperitoneal oleuropein a total of 14 times at intervals of every other day. Three days after treatment termination, the spleen parasitic burden was reduced >80%. Of interest, this effect of oleuropein persisted and was even enhanced 6 weeks after the termination of the treatment, as determined by parasite depletion of >95% in liver and spleen. These findings contribute to the potential development of natural products as effective drugs against parasites of the Leishmania genus, with low cost and diminished cytotoxicity.
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