Toxoplasma gondii is a zoonotic pathogen that causes toxoplasmosis and leads to serious public health problems in developing countries. However, current clinical therapeutic drugs have some disadvantages, such as serious side effects, a long course of treatment and the emergence of drug-resistant strains. The urgent need to identify novel anti-Toxoplasma drugs has initiated the effective strategy of repurposing well-characterized drugs. As a principled screening for the identification of effective compounds against Toxoplasma gondii, in the current study, a collection of 666 compounds were screened for their ability to significantly inhibit Toxoplasma growth. The inhibition of parasite growth was determined using a luminescence-based β-galactosidase activity assay. Meanwhile, the effect of compounds on the viability of host cells was measured using CCK8. To assess the inhibition of the selected compounds on discrete steps of the T. gondii lytic cycle, the invasion, intracellular proliferation and egress abilities were evaluated. Finally, a murine infection model of toxoplasmosis was used to monitor the protective efficacy of drugs against acute infection of a highly virulent RH strain. A total of 68 compounds demonstrated more than 70% parasite growth inhibition. After excluding compounds that impaired host cell viability, we further characterized two compounds, NVP-AEW541 and GSK-J4 HCl, which had IC50 values for parasite growth of 1.17 μM and 2.37 μM, respectively. In addition, both compounds showed low toxicity to the host cell. Furthermore, we demonstrated that NVP-AEW541 inhibits tachyzoite invasion, while GSK-J4 HCl inhibits intracellular tachyzoite proliferation by halting cell cycle progression from G1 to S phase. These findings prompted us to analyse the efficacy of the two compounds in vivo by using established mouse models of acute toxoplasmosis. In addition to prolonging the survival time of mice acutely infected with T. gondii, both compounds had a remarkable ability to reduce the parasite burden of tissues. Our findings suggest that both NVP-AEW541 and GSK-J4 could be potentially repurposed as candidate drugs against T. gondii infection.
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