Zoloft could treat deadly fungal infections

TEXAS A&M (US) — Zoloft, one of the most widely prescribed antidepressants in the world, is also capable of inhibiting deadly fungal infections, according to new research.

Researchers from Texas A&M University studied the effect of sertraline hydrocholoride (Zoloft) 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 report.


An image of C. neoformans from the team’s research shows silver-stained Cryptococcus cells—indicated in black—in mouse lung tissue. (Credit: Xiaorong Lin, Texas A&M)

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Their research, funded with grants from the American Heart Association, the Norman Hackerman Advanced Research Program, and the National Institutes of Health, is published in the June issue of the journal Antimicrobial Agents and Chemotherapy.

“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,” says Matthew S. Sachs, professor of biology. “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, 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, according to Xiaorong Lin, assistant professor of biology,

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.

The research team also includes Ph.D. candidate Bing Zhai and postdoctoral fellows Cheng Wu and Linqi Wang.

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