Background: One of the most important causative agents of visceral leishmaniasis (VL) is Leishmania infantum, which is mainly spread by Phlebotomus and Lutzomyia sandflies in the Old and New World, respectively. Novel and effective drugs to manage this neglected vector-borne disease are urgently required. In this study, we evaluated the toxicity of carvacrol, thymol and linalool, three common essential oil constituents, on amastigotes and promastigotes of L. infantum. Methods: in vitro experiments were performed by 24 h MTT assay. Carvacrol, thymol and linalool at concentrations ranging from 1.3 to 10 μg/mL were tested on promastigotes of L. infantum. For in vivo test, two groups of hamsters (Mesocricetus auratus) received 100 mg/kg of body weight/day of carvacrol and thymol as intraperitoneal injection on day 7 post-infection, followed by a 48 h later injection. The third group was treated with the glucantime as standard drug (500 mg/kg) and the last group (control) just received normal saline. On the 16th day, the number of parasites and histopathological changes in liver and spleen were investigated.
Results: 24 h MTT assay showed promising antileishmanial activity of thymol and carvacrol, with IC50 values of 7.2 (48 μM) and 9.8 μg/mL (65 μM), respectively. Linalool at all concentrations did not affect L. infantum promastigote viability. In vivo toxicity data of carvacrol and thymol showed that the former at 100 mg/kg was the safest and most effective treatment with little side effects on the liver.
Conclusions: Overall, thymol and carvacrol are highly promising candidates for the development of effective and safe drugs in the fight against VL.
Keywords: insect vectors; neglected tropical diseases; protozoan parasites; sandflies; visceral leishmaniasis.