Gastrointestinal localization of metronidazole by a lactobacilli-inspired tetramic acid motif improves treatment outcomes in the hamster model of Clostridium difficile infection.
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OBJECTIVES: Metronidazole, a mainstay treatment for Clostridium difficile infection (CDI), is often ineffective for severe CDI. Whilst this is thought to arise from suboptimal levels of metronidazole in the colon due to rapid absorption, empirical validation is lacking. In contrast, reutericyclin, an antibacterial tetramic acid from Lactobacillus reuteri, concentrates in the gastrointestinal tract. In this study, we modified metronidazole with reutericyclin's tetramic acid motif to obtain non-absorbed compounds, enabling assessment of the impact of pharmacokinetics on treatment outcomes. METHODS: A series of metronidazole-bearing tetramic acid substituents were synthesized and evaluated in terms of anti-C. difficile activities, gastric permeability, in vivo pharmacokinetics, efficacy in the hamster model of CDI and mode of action. RESULTS: Most compounds were absorbed less than metronidazole in cell-based Caco-2 permeability assays. In hamsters, lead compounds compartmentalized in the colon rather than the bloodstream with negligible levels detected in the blood, in direct contrast with metronidazole, which was rapidly absorbed into the blood and was undetectable in caecum. Accordingly, four leads were more efficacious (P<0.05) than metronidazole in C. difficile-infected animals. Improved efficacy was not due to an alternative mode of action, as the leads retained the mode of action of metronidazole. CONCLUSIONS: This study provides the clearest empirical evidence that the high absorption of metronidazole lowers treatment outcomes for CDI and suggests a role for the tetramic acid motif for colon-specific drug delivery. This approach also has the potential to lower systemic toxicity and drug interactions of nitroheterocyclic drugs for treating gastrointestine-specific diseases.