L'ossido nitrico nella terapia anti-protozoaria

Translated title of the contribution: Nitric oxide and anti-protozoan chemotherapy

L. Gradoni, P. Ascenzi

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


Constitutive nitric oxide (NO) is generated by constitutively expressed types of NO-synthase enzymes (NOS-I and -III), being involved in physiological processes such as nervous transmission and vasodilatation. Inducible NO, synthesized by the NO-synthase isoform NOS-II, is an anti-pathogen and tumoricidal agent. However, inducible NO production requires a tight control because of cytotoxic and immune-modulation activity. NO produced by human and canine macrophages has long been demonstrated to be involved in the intracellular killing of Leishmania. Mechanisms of parasite survival and persistence in the host have been throughly investigated, and include suppression of NOS-II and the parasite entry into NOS-II negative cells. Both intracellular and extracellular morphotypes of Trypanosoma cruzi are killed by NO in vitro and in vivo, although a role of NO in the pathogenesis of heart disease has been reported. Killing of extracellular protozoa such as Trichomonas vaginalis and Naegleria fowleri by activated macrophages is also mediated by NO. The main control of Plasmodium spp infection in human and murine hepatocytes, and in human monocytes is achieved by NO-mediated mechanisms. Protection from severe malaria in African children has been found associated with polymorphisms of the NOS-II promoter; however, a pathogenic role of endogenous NO has been documented in cerebral malaria. Although several macromolecules are putative NO targets, recent experimental work has shown that NO-releasing compounds inhibit cysteine proteases (CP) of P. falciparum, T. cruzi and L. infantum in a dose-dependent manner. CPs are present in a wide range of parasitic protozoa and appear to be relevant in several aspects of the life cycle and of the parasite-host relationships. Comparative analysis of 3-D amino acid sequence models of CPs from a broad range of living organisms, from viruses to mammals, suggests that the Sγ atom of the Cys catalytic residue undergoes NO-dependent chemical modification (S-nytrosilation and disulfide bridge formation), with the concomitant loss of enzyme activity. The NO-donor S-nitroso-N-acetilpenicillamine (SNAP) was shown to kill T. cruzi epimastigotes and L. infantum promastigotes in culture, while a combination of nitrite plus acid organic salts was highly effective against L. major amastigotes in mouse macrophages. A parasitostatic effect - with both encystation and excystation inhibition - of S-nitrosoglutathione and spermine-NONOate was documented in trophozoite cultures of Giardia duodenalis. Recently, a novel formulation of metronidazole bearing a NO-releasing group was found to enhance significantly the in vitro killing of Entamoeba histolytica trophozoites, compared to metronidazole. So far, only two clinical studies were performed on human patients, suffering from cutaneous leishmaniasis. In one study, 16 Ecuadorean patients were treated with a SNAP cream administered on lesions for 10 days. All lesions were parasitologically cured and clinically healed by day 30. In the second study, a different NO-producing cream (basically nitrite in acidic environment) was employed to treat 40 Syrian patients. Only 28% of them showed improvement and 12% were cured by day 60. In conclusion, despite the wide evidence that NO can be regarded as a natural anti-protozoal weapon, little efforts have been made to develop and test NO-based drugs in human medicine. This is mainly due to the difficulty in designing suitable chemical carriers able to release the right amount of NO, in the right place and in the right time, to avoid toxic effects against non-target host cells.

Translated title of the contributionNitric oxide and anti-protozoan chemotherapy
Original languageItalian
Pages (from-to)101-103
Number of pages3
Issue number1-2
Publication statusPublished - Jun 2004

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Immunology and Microbiology(all)


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