Intestinal parasitic nematodes such as hookworms, Ascaris lumbricoides, and Trichuris trichiura are amongst most prevalent tropical parasites in the world today. Although these parasites cause a tremendous disease burden, we have very few anthelmintic drugs with which to treat them. In the past three decades only one new anthelmintic, tribendimidine, has been developed and taken into human clinical trials. Studies show that tribendimidine is safe and has good clinical activity against Ascaris and hookworms. However, little is known about its mechanism of action and potential resistance pathway(s). Such information is important for preventing, detecting, and managing resistance, for safety considerations, and for knowing how to combine tribendimidine with other anthelmintics.
To investigate how tribendimidine works and how resistance to it might develop, we turned to the genetically tractable nematode, Caenorhabditis elegans. When exposed to tribendimidine, C. elegans hermaphrodites undergo a near immediate loss of motility; longer exposure results in extensive body damage, developmental arrest, reductions in fecundity, and/or death. We performed a forward genetic screen for tribendimidine-resistant mutants and obtained ten resistant alleles that fall into four complementation groups. Intoxication assays, complementation tests, genetic mapping experiments, and sequencing of nucleic acids indicate tribendimidine-resistant mutants are resistant also to levamisole and pyrantel and alter the same genes that mutate to levamisole resistance. Furthermore, we demonstrate that eleven C. elegans mutants isolated based on their ability to resist levamisole are also resistant to tribendimidine.
Our results demonstrate that the mechanism of action of tribendimidine against nematodes is the same as levamisole and pyrantel, namely, tribendimidine is an L-subtype nAChR agonist. Thus, tribendimidine may not be a viable anthelmintic where resistance to levamisole or pyrantel already exists but could productively be used where resistance to benzimidazoles exists or could be combined with this class of anthelmintics.