COLLEGE STATION — 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 (ZOLOFT) and its effects on Cryptococcus neoformans, the major causative agent of fungal meningitis — 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.
For more information, see http://www.science.tamu.edu/articles/915