The human diseases caused by the fungal pathogens Cryptococcus neoformans and Cryptococcus gattii are associated with high indices of mortality and toxic and/or cost-prohibitive therapeutic protocols. The need for affordable antifungals to combat cryptococcal disease is unquestionable. Previous studies suggested benzimidazoles as promising anticryptococcal agents combining low cost and high antifungal efficacy, but their therapeutic potential has not been demonstrated so far. In this study, we investigated the antifungal potential of fenbendazole, the most effective anticryptococcal benzimidazole. Fenbendazole was inhibitory against 17 different isolates of C. neoformans and C. gattii at a low concentration. The mechanism of anticryptococcal activity of fenbendazole involved microtubule disorganization, as previously described for human parasites. In combination with fenbendazole, the concentrations of the standard antifungal amphotericin B required to control cryptococcal growth were lower than those required when this antifungal was used alone. Fenbendazole was not toxic to mammalian cells. During macrophage infection, the anticryptococcal effects of fenbendazole included inhibition of intracellular proliferation rates and reduced phagocytic escape through vomocytosis. Fenbendazole deeply affected the cryptococcal capsule. In a mouse model of cryptococcosis, the efficacy of fenbendazole to control animal mortality was similar to that observed for amphotericin B. These results indicate that fenbendazole is a promising candidate for the future development of an efficient and affordable therapeutic tool to combat cryptococcosis.
Keywords: Cryptococcus; antifungal; fenbendazole.
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