Onchocerca parasites and Wolbachia endosymbionts: evaluation of a spectrum of antibiotic types for activity against Onchocerca gutturosa in vitro
Background: The filarial parasites of major importance in humans contain the symbiotic bacterium Wolbachia and recent studies have shown that targeting of these bacteria with antibiotics results in a reduction in worm viability, development, embryogenesis, and survival. Doxycycline has been effective in human trials, but there is a need to develop drugs that can be given for shorter periods and to pregnant women and children. The World Health Organisation-approved assay to screen for anti-filarial activity in vitro uses male Onchocerca gutturosa, with effects being determined by worm motility and viability as measured by reduction of MTT to MTT formazan. Here we have used this system to screen antibiotics for anti-filarial activity. In addition we have determined the contribution of Wolbachia depletion to the MTT reduction assay. Methods: Adult male O. gutturosa were cultured on a monkey kidney cell (LLCMK 2) feeder layer in 24-well plates with antibiotics and antibiotic combinations (6 to 10 worms per group). The macrofilaricide CGP 6140 (Amocarzine) was used as a positive control. Worm viability was assessed by two methods, (i) motility levels and (ii) MTT/formazan colorimetry. Worm motility was scored on a scale of 0 (immotile) to 10 (maximum) every 5 days up to 40 days. On day 40 worm viability was evaluated by MTT/formazan colorimetry, and results were expressed as a mean percentage reduction compared with untreated control values at day 40. To determine the contribution of Wolbachia to the MTT assay, the MTT formazan formation of an insect cell-line (C6/36) with or without insect Wolbachia infection and treated or untreated with tetracycline was compared. Results: Antibiotics with known anti-Wolbachia activity were efficacious in this system. Rifampicin (5 10-5M) was the most effective anti-mycobacterial agent; clofazimine (1.25 10-5M and 3.13 10-6M) produced a gradual reduction in motility and by 40 days had reduced worm viability. The other anti-mycobacterial drugs tested had limited or no activity. Doxycycline (5 10-5M) was filaricidal, but minocycline was more effective and at a lower concentration (5 10-5M and 1.25 10-5M). Inactive compounds included erythromycin, oxytetracycline, trimethoprim and sulphamethoxazole. The MTT assay on the insect cell-line showed that Wolbachia made a significant contribution to the metabolic activity within the cells, which could be reduced when they were exposed to tetracycline. Conclusion: The O. gutturosa adult male screen for anti-filarial drug activity is also valid for the screening of antibiotics for anti-Wolbachia activity. In agreement with previous findings, rifampicin and doxycycline were effective; however, the most active antibiotic was minocycline. Wolbachia contributed to the formation of MTT formazan in the MTT assay of viability and is therefore not exclusively a measure of worm viability and indicates that Wolbachia contributes directly to the metabolic activity of the nematode.