Biologists prove ZOLOFT packs potential to fight fungal meningitis

July 25, 2012

New research conducted by biologists at Texas A&M University suggests that ZOLOFT, one of the most widely prescribed antidepressants in the world, also packs a potential preventative bonus — potent mechanisms capable of inhibiting deadly fungal infections.

The findings are the result of a two-year investigation by Xiaorong Lin, assistant professor of biology, and Matthew S. Sachs, professor of biology, involving sertraline hydrocholoride () and its effects on , the major causative agent of — specifically, cryptococcal meningitis, which claims more than half a million lives worldwide each year, according to a 2009 Center for Disease Control (CDC) report.

Their research, funded with grants from the American Heart Association (AHA), the Norman Hackerman Advanced Research Program, and the National Institutes of Health (NIH), is published in the June issue of the American Society of Microbiology journal Antimicrobial Agents and Chemotherapy. Their research team includes Ph.D. candidate Bing Zhai and postdoctoral fellows Cheng Wu and Linqi Wang.

"The point here is that if there is a drug that already exists, is known to be well-tolerated, and has alternative uses, that's a good thing," Sachs says. "The billion dollars it would take to bring a drug to the market — that's already done."

C. neoformans is a potentially dangerous fungal pathogen found in many soils throughout the world that may cause systemic infections, particularly involving the central nervous system. In most cases, the microscopic, airborne fungal cells of C. neoformans cause asymptomatic colonization in the lungs. However, Lin says the fungus is particularly aggressive in people with weakened immune systems and can spread to other parts of the body, such as the brain and spinal cord, resulting in cryptococcal meningitis — a condition that, in absence of treatment, is fatal.

Lin participated in a previous study to screen a collection of FDA-approved drugs in a John Hopkins Clinical Compound Library to determine if any contained fungicidal agents. Although sertraline was shown to only moderately inhibit the effects of common fungal strains like Aspergillus nidulans, a genus of common mold often found on spoiled food, and Candida, a genus of yeast often associated with mammals, sertraline was found to be particularly effective against C. neoformans.

A follow-up investigation of sertraline in a mouse model of systemic cryptococcosis revealed that it combats infection similar to fluconazole, an antifungal drug used commonly since the early 1990s. Moreover, a drug combination of sertraline and fluconazole was found to work more efficiently than either drug alone.

Lin says that even though the infection ultimately proved fatal in the mice study, sertraline as a cryptoccol treatment still holds promise. Because sertraline reduced the overall fungal burden within the mice and also possesses the desirable ability to cross the blood-brain barrier as an antidepressant, there is still hope it can be altered to serve as a viable treatment option.

"The problem for many current antifungal drugs is that many cannot go to the brain, and it's very difficult for a lot of compounds to reach the brain in the first place," Lin says. "So, you run into the problem of not killing all the fungus or having a very low level of fungus still exist. The fact is, this antidepressant can cross the blood-brain barrier and can get into the tissue at high concentrations."

It remains unclear exactly what dosage and concentration of sertraline is necessary to completely eliminate cryptococcosis, especially cryptococcal meningitis, but Lin and Sachs hope those answers will come to light with further testing.

"If this becomes useful, it could represent a truly significant increase in our ability to help people with brain cryptococcal infections," Sachs adds.

Explore further: Cryptococcus infections misdiagnosed in many AIDS patients

More information: aac.asm.org/content/56/7/3758.abstract?etoc

Related Stories

Cryptococcus infections misdiagnosed in many AIDS patients

September 1, 2011
Most AIDS patients, when diagnosed with a fungal infection known simply as cryptococcosis, are assumed to have an infection with Cryptococcus neoformans, but a recent study from Duke University Medical Center suggests that ...

Recommended for you

Hibernating ground squirrels provide clues to new stroke treatments

November 17, 2017
In the fight against brain damage caused by stroke, researchers have turned to an unlikely source of inspiration: hibernating ground squirrels.

Age and gut bacteria contribute to multiple sclerosis disease progression

November 17, 2017
Researchers at Rutgers Robert Wood Johnson Medical School published a study suggesting that gut bacteria at young age can contribute to multiple sclerosis (MS) disease onset and progression.

Molecular guardian defends cells, organs against excess cholesterol

November 16, 2017
A team of researchers at the Harvard T. H. Chan School of Public Health has illuminated a critical player in cholesterol metabolism that acts as a molecular guardian in cells to help maintain cholesterol levels within a safe, ...

Prototype ear plug sensor could improve monitoring of vital signs

November 16, 2017
Scientists have developed a sensor that fits in the ear, with the aim of monitoring the heart, brain and lungs functions for health and fitness.

Ancient enzyme could boost power of liquid biopsies to detect and profile cancers

November 16, 2017
Scientists are developing a set of medical tests called liquid biopsies that can rapidly detect the presence of cancers, infectious diseases and other conditions from only a small blood sample. Researchers at The University ...

FDA to crack down on risky stem cell offerings

November 16, 2017
U.S. health authorities announced plans Thursday to crack down on doctors pushing stem cell procedures that pose the gravest risks to patients amid an effort to police a burgeoning medical field that previously has received ...

0 comments

Please sign in to add a comment. Registration is free, and takes less than a minute. Read more

Click here to reset your password.
Sign in to get notified via email when new comments are made.