Efficacy and safety of metronidazole for pulmonary multidrug-resistant tuberculosis

Antimicrob Agents Chemother. 2013 Aug;57(8):3903-9. doi: 10.1128/AAC.00753-13. Epub 2013 Jun 3.


Pulmonary lesions from active tuberculosis patients are thought to contain persistent, nonreplicating bacilli that arise from hypoxic stress. Metronidazole, approved for anaerobic infections, has antituberculosis activity against anoxic bacilli in vitro and in some animal models and may target persistent, nonreplicating bacilli. In this double-blind, placebo-controlled trial, pulmonary multidrug-resistant tuberculosis subjects were randomly assigned to receive metronidazole (500 mg thrice daily) or placebo for 8 weeks in addition to an individualized background regimen. Outcomes were measured radiologically (change on high-resolution computed tomography [HRCT]), microbiologically (time to sputum smear and culture conversion), and clinically (status 6 months after stopping therapy). Enrollment was stopped early due to excessive peripheral neuropathies in the metronidazole arm. Among 35 randomized subjects, 31 (15 metronidazole, 16 placebo) were included in the modified intent-to-treat analysis. There were no significant differences by arm in improvement of HRCT lesions from baseline to 2 or 6 months. More subjects in the metronidazole arm converted their sputum smear (P = 0.04) and liquid culture (P = 0.04) to negative at 1 month, but these differences were lost by 2 months. Overall, 81% showed clinical success 6 months after stopping therapy, with no differences by arm. However, 8/16 (50%) of subjects in the metronidazole group and 2/17 (12%) of those in the placebo group developed peripheral neuropathy. Subjects who received metronidazole were 4.3-fold (95% confidence interval [CI], 1.1 to 17.1) more likely to develop peripheral neuropathies than subjects who received placebo. Metronidazole may have increased early sputum smear and culture conversion but was too neurotoxic to use over the longer term. Newer nitroimidazoles with both aerobic and anaerobic activity, now in clinical trials, may increase the sterilizing potency of future treatment regimens.

Publication types

  • Clinical Trial, Phase II
  • Randomized Controlled Trial
  • Research Support, N.I.H., Extramural
  • Research Support, N.I.H., Intramural
  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Adult
  • Antitubercular Agents / administration & dosage*
  • Antitubercular Agents / adverse effects
  • Antitubercular Agents / pharmacokinetics
  • Antitubercular Agents / therapeutic use*
  • Area Under Curve
  • Confidence Intervals
  • Double-Blind Method
  • Female
  • Humans
  • Lung / microbiology
  • Lung / pathology
  • Male
  • Metronidazole / administration & dosage*
  • Metronidazole / adverse effects
  • Metronidazole / pharmacokinetics
  • Metronidazole / therapeutic use*
  • Mycobacterium tuberculosis / isolation & purification
  • Peripheral Nervous System Diseases / chemically induced
  • Severity of Illness Index
  • Sputum / microbiology
  • Treatment Outcome
  • Tuberculosis, Multidrug-Resistant / drug therapy*
  • Young Adult


  • Antitubercular Agents
  • Metronidazole