Ebselen exerts antifungal activity by regulating glutathione (GSH) and reactive oxygen species (ROS) production in fungal cells

Biochim Biophys Acta Gen Subj. 2017 Jan;1861(1 Pt A):3002-3010. doi: 10.1016/j.bbagen.2016.09.029. Epub 2016 Oct 3.


Background: Ebselen, an organoselenium compound and a clinically safe molecule has been reported to possess potent antifungal activity, but its antifungal mechanism of action and in vivo antifungal activity remain unclear.

Methods: The antifungal effect of ebselen was tested against Candida albicans, C. glabrata, C. tropicalis, C. parapsilosis, Cryptococcus neoformans, and C. gattii clinical isolates. Chemogenomic profiling and biochemical assays were employed to identify the antifungal target of ebselen. Ebselen's antifungal activity in vivo was investigated in a Caenorhabditis elegans animal model.

Results: Ebselen exhibits potent antifungal activity against both Candida spp. and Cryptococcus spp., at concentrations ranging from 0.5 to 2μg/ml. Ebselen rapidly eradicates a high fungal inoculum within 2h of treatment. Investigation of the drug's antifungal mechanism of action indicates that ebselen depletes intracellular glutathione (GSH) levels, leading to increased production of reactive oxygen species (ROS), and thereby disturbs the redox homeostasis in fungal cells. Examination of ebselen's in vivo antifungal activity in two Caenorhabditis elegans models of infection demonstrate that ebselen is superior to conventional antifungal drugs (fluconazole, flucytosine and amphotericin) in reducing Candida and Cryptococcus fungal load.

Conclusion: Ebselen possesses potent antifungal activity against clinically relevant isolates of both Candida and Cryptococcus by regulating GSH and ROS production. The potent in vivo antifungal activity of ebselen supports further investigation for repurposing it for use as an antifungal agent.

General significance: The present study shows that ebselen targets glutathione and also support that glutathione as a potential target for antifungal drug development.

Keywords: Antifungal activity; C. elegans; Ebselen; Glutathione; ROS production.

Publication types

  • Research Support, N.I.H., Extramural
  • Research Support, U.S. Gov't, Non-P.H.S.

MeSH terms

  • Animals
  • Antifungal Agents / pharmacology*
  • Azoles / pharmacology*
  • Caenorhabditis elegans / drug effects
  • Caenorhabditis elegans / microbiology
  • Candida / cytology*
  • Candida / drug effects
  • Candida / growth & development
  • Cryptococcus / cytology*
  • Cryptococcus / drug effects
  • Cryptococcus / growth & development
  • Glutathione / biosynthesis*
  • Glutathione / pharmacology
  • Isoindoles
  • Kinetics
  • Microbial Sensitivity Tests
  • Microbial Viability / drug effects
  • Organoselenium Compounds / pharmacology*
  • Reactive Oxygen Species / metabolism*


  • Antifungal Agents
  • Azoles
  • Isoindoles
  • Organoselenium Compounds
  • Reactive Oxygen Species
  • ebselen
  • Glutathione