Link to Pubmed [PMID] – 37326546
Link to HAL – pasteur-04134008
Link to DOI – 10.1128/mbio.00479-23
mBio 2023 Jun; (): e0047923
Each year, fungi cause more than 1.5 billion infections worldwide and have a devastating impact on human health, particularly in immunocompromised individuals or patients in intensive care units. The limited antifungal arsenal and emerging multidrug-resistant species necessitate the development of new therapies. One strategy for combating drug-resistant pathogens is the administration of molecules that restore fungal susceptibility to approved drugs. Accordingly, we carried out a screen to identify small molecules that could restore the susceptibility of pathogenic Candida species to azole antifungals. This screening effort led to the discovery of novel 1,4-benzodiazepines that restore fluconazole susceptibility in resistant isolates of Candida albicans, as evidenced by 100-1,000-fold potentiation of fluconazole activity. This potentiation effect was also observed in azole-tolerant strains of C. albicans and in other pathogenic Candida species. The 1,4-benzodiazepines selectively potentiated different azoles, but not other approved antifungals. A remarkable feature of the potentiation was that the combination of the compounds with fluconazole was fungicidal, whereas fluconazole alone is fungistatic. Interestingly, the potentiators were not toxic to C. albicans in the absence of fluconazole, but inhibited virulence-associated filamentation of the fungus. We found that the combination of the potentiators and fluconazole significantly enhanced host survival in a Galleria mellonella model of systemic fungal infection. Taken together, these observations validate a strategy wherein small molecules can restore the activity of highly used anti-infectives that have lost potency. IMPORTANCE In the last decade, we have been witnessing a higher incidence of fungal infections, due to an expansion of the fungal species capable of causing disease (e.g., Candida auris), as well as increased antifungal drug resistance. Among human fungal pathogens, Candida species are a leading cause of invasive infections and are associated with high mortality rates. Infections by these pathogens are commonly treated with azole antifungals, yet the expansion of drug-resistant isolates has reduced their clinical utility. In this work, we describe the discovery and characterization of small molecules that potentiate fluconazole and restore the susceptibility of azole-resistant and azole-tolerant Candida isolates. Interestingly, the potentiating 1,4-benzodiazepines were not toxic to fungal cells but inhibited their virulence-associated filamentous growth. Furthermore, combinations of the potentiators and fluconazole decreased fungal burdens and enhanced host survival in a Galleria mellonella model of systemic fungal infections. Accordingly, we propose the use of novel antifungal potentiators as a powerful strategy for addressing the growing resistance of fungi to clinically approved drugs.