The mechanism of action of, and resistance to, metronidazole in the anaerobic (or micro-aerotolerant) protozoan parasite Giardia lamblia has long been associated with the reduction of ferredoxin (Fd) by the enzyme pyruvate:ferredoxin oxidoreductase (PFOR) and the subsequent activation of metronidazole by Fd to toxic radical species. Resistance to metronidazole has been associated with down-regulation of PFOR and Fd. The aim of this study was to determine whether the PFOR/Fd couple is the only pathway involved in metronidazole activation in Giardia. PFOR and Fd activities were measured in extracts of highly metronidazole-resistant (MTR(r)) lines and activities of recombinant G. lamblia thioredoxin reductase (GlTrxR) and NADPH oxidase were assessed for their involvement in metronidazole activation and resistance. We demonstrated that several lines of highly MTR(r) G. lamblia have fully functional PFOR and Fd indicating that PFOR/Fd-independent mechanisms are involved in metronidazole activation and resistance in these cells. Flavin-dependent GlTrxR, like TrxR of other anaerobic protozoa, reduces 5-nitroimidazole compounds including metronidazole, although expression of TrxR is not decreased in MTR(r) Giardia. However, reduction of flavins is suppressed in highly MTR(r) cells, as evidenced by as much as an 80% decrease in NADPH oxidase flavin mononucleotide reduction activity. This suppression is consistent with generalized impaired flavin metabolism in highly MTR(r) Trichomonas vaginalis. These data add to the mounting evidence against the dogma that PFOR/Fd is the only couple with a low enough redox potential to reduce metronidazole in anaerobes and point to the multi-factorial nature of metronidazole resistance.
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