The current treatments for lymphatic filariasis and onchocerciasis do not effectively kill the adult parasitic nematodes, allowing these chronic and debilitating diseases to persist in millions of people. Thus, the discovery of new drugs with macrofilaricidal potential to treat these filarial diseases is critical. To facilitate this need, we first investigated the effects of three aspartyl protease inhibitors (APIs) that are FDA-approved as HIV antiretroviral drugs on the adult filarial nematode, Brugia malayi and the endosymbiotic bacteria, Wolbachia. From the three hits, nelfinavir had the best potency with an IC50 value of 7.78 µM, followed by ritonavir and lopinavir with IC50 values of 14.3 µM and 16.9 µM, respectively. The three APIs have a direct effect on killing adult B. malayi after 6 days of exposure in vitro and did not affect the Wolbachia titers. Sequence conservation and stage-specific gene expression analysis identified Bm8660 as the most likely primary aspartic protease target for these drug(s). Immunolocalization using antibodies raised against the Bm8660 ortholog of Onchocerca volvulus showed it is strongly expressed in female B. malayi, especially in metabolically active tissues such as lateral and dorsal/ventral chords, hypodermis, and uterus tissue. Global transcriptional response analysis using adult female B. pahangi treated with APIs identified four additional aspartic proteases differentially regulated by the three effective drugs, as well as significant enrichment of various pathways including ubiquitin mediated proteolysis, protein kinases, and MAPK/AMPK/FoxO signaling. In vitro testing against the adult gastro-intestinal nematode Trichuris muris suggested broad-spectrum potential for these APIs. This study suggests that APIs may serve as new leads to be further explored for drug discovery to treat parasitic nematode infections.

Original languageEnglish
Article number707
Issue number6
StatePublished - Jun 2022


  • Neglected tropical diseases (NTDs)
  • Trichuris
  • anti-filarial drugs
  • filarial nematodes
  • gastro-intestinal nematodes
  • macrofilaricidal


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