Antimycobacterial activity of acetone extract and isolated metabolites from folklore medicinal lichen Usnea laevis Nyl. against drug-sensitive and multidrug-resistant tuberculosis strains

J Ethnopharmacol. 2022 Jan 10;282:114641. doi: 10.1016/j.jep.2021.114641. Epub 2021 Sep 15.


Ethnopharmacological relevance: Tuberculosis (Tb) is one of the most infectious diseases caused by Mycobacterium tuberculosis (M.t) with almost 2 million deaths yearly. Although many Tb control programs have been organised, there is an elevated number of Tb cases due to the appearance of extremely drug-resistant and multidrug-resistant (MDR) Tb strains. In the cultures of Venezuelan Andes, fruticose lichen Usnea laevis Nyl. (Usneaceae) with folklore name 'Barba de Piedra, Tusinya' is used as a natural remedy for Tb.

Aim of the study: This study was performed to provide a scientific rationale for the folklore usage of U. laevis in treating Tb by validating its antimycobacterial activity against two drug-sensitive and four MDR-Tb strains.

Materials and methods: The mycobacterial inhibitory activities of acetone extract (Ul), fractions (F1-10), and isolated metabolites (1-4) of U. laevis were evaluated against M.t H37Ra using 2,3-bis-(2-methoxy-4-nitro-5-sulfophenyl)-2H-tetrazolium-5-carboxanilide reduction menadione assay (XRMA). Furthermore, Ul and 1-4 were subjected to antimycobacterial activity against M.t H37Ra, Mycobacterium smegmatis, and four MDR-Tb (MDR-A8, MDR-V791, MDR-R and MDR-40) strains using resazurin microtitre plate assay (REMA) and cytotoxicity against THP-1 macrophages using 3-(4,5-dimethylthiazol-2-yl)-2,5-diphenyltetrazolium bromide (MTT) assay and their selectivity index values were also calculated.

Results: Initially, Ul has shown prominent inhibitory activity (IC50 value: 5.44 ± 0.36 μg/ml) and four of its fractions (F1, F2, F5 and F7) also exhibited the best inhibitory activity (IC50 values ranged from 7.46 ± 0.19 to 71.38 ± 2.57 μg/ml) against M.t H37Ra using XRMA. Purification of these bioactive fractions identified four metabolites, namely usnic acid (1), atranorin (2), salazinic acid (3), and lobaric acid (4). From the MIC values of REMA, it was identified that Ul, 1 and 4 were more effective in inhibiting the growth of all four MDR-Tb strains, compared to first-line drug rifampicin. Interestingly, Ul has shown better antimycobacterial activity than 1-4 and rifampicin against MDR-Tb strains may be due to the synergistic effect of its metabolites. Also, the IC50 values of Ul and 1-4 on THP-1 macrophages were found to be far higher than MIC values against tested Tb strains, indicating that THP-1 macrophages were not harmfully affected at concentrations that were effective against Tb strains. Further, the calculated selectivity index values revealed the more active and non-toxicity of Ul, 1 and 4 against MDR-Tb strains than rifampicin.

Conclusions: The current study lends the first evidence for the presence of antimycobacterial metabolites in U. laevis. The results exposed the Andean folklore use of U. laevis for treating Tb, and the key biomarker metabolites were found to be 1 and 4. Hence, it can be concluded that U. laevis can be used as a potential source for the novel drug development for MDR-Tb.

Keywords: Antimycobacterial activity; Cytotoxicity; Multidrug-resistant strains; Selectivity index; Tuberculosis; Usnea laevis.