Nitroheterocyclic drugs cure experimental Trypanosoma cruzi infections more effectively in the chronic stage than in the acute stage
The insect-transmitted protozoan parasite Trypanosoma cruzi is the causative agent of Chagas disease, and infects 5-8 million people in Latin America. Chagas disease is characterised by an acute phase, which is partially resolved by the immune system, but then develops as a chronic life-long infection. There is a consensus that the front-line drugs benznidazole and nifurtimox are more effective against the acute stage in both clinical and experimental settings. However, confirmative studies have been restricted by difficulties in demonstrating sterile parasitological cure. Here, we describe a systematic study of nitroheterocyclic drug efficacy using highly sensitive bioluminescence imaging of murine infections. Unexpectedly, we find both drugs are more effective at curing chronic infections, judged by treatment duration and therapeutic dose. This was not associated with factors that differentially influence plasma drug concentrations in the two disease stages. We also observed that fexinidazole and fexinidazole sulfone are more effective than benznidazole and nifurtimox as curative treatments, particularly for acute stage infections, most likely as a result of the higher and more prolonged exposure of the sulfone derivative. If these findings are translatable to human patients, they will have important implications for treatment strategies.