Evaluation of antileishmanial potential of the antidepressant escitalopram in Leishmania infantum

Marta Lopes Lima, Maiara Amaral, Samanta Etel Treiger Borborem, Andre Gustavo Tempone

Journal of Pharmaceutical and Biomedical Analysis Volume 209, 5 February 2022, 114469 doi.org/10.1016/j.jpba.2021.114469


Neglected tropical diseases (NTDs) such as visceral leishmaniasis (VL) present a limited and toxic therapeutic arsenal, and drug repositioning represents a safe and cost-effective approach. In this work, we investigated the antileishmanial potential and the mechanism of lethal action of the antidepressant escitalopram. The efficacy of escitalopram was determined ex-vivo using the intracellular Leishmania (L.infantum amastigote model and the mammalian cytotoxicity was determined by the colorimetric MTT assay. The cellular and molecular alterations induced by the drug were investigated using spectrofluorimetry, a luminescence assay and flow cytometry. Our data revealed that escitalopram was active and selective against L. infantum parasites, with an IC50 value of 25 µM and a 50% cytotoxic concentration (CC50) of 184 µM. By using the fluorescent probes SYTOX® Green and DiSBAC2(3), the drug showed no alterations in the plasma membrane permeability nor in the electric potential of the membrane (∆ψp); however, after a short-time incubation, the drug caused a dose-dependent up-regulation of the calcium levels, leading to the depolarization of the mitochondrial membrane potential (∆ψm) and a reduction of the ATP levels. No up-regulation of reactive oxygen (ROS) was observed. In the cell cycle analysis, escitalopram induced a dose-dependent increase of the parasites at the sub G0/G1 stage, representing fragmented DNA. Escitalopram presented a selective antileishmanial activity, with disruption of single mitochondrion and interference in the cell cycle. Approved drugs such as escitalopram may represent a promising approach for NTDs and can be considered in future animal efficacy studies.