Unsporulated oocysts of the protozoan parasite Eimeria tenella contain high levels of mannitol, which is thought to be the principal energy source for the process of sporulation. Biosynthesis and utilization of this sugar alcohol occurs via a metabolic pathway known as the mannitol cycle. Here, results are presented that suggest that 3-nitrophenyl disulfide (nitrophenide, Megasul), an anticoccidial drug commercially used in the 1950s, inhibits mannitol-1-phosphate dehydrogenase (M1PDH), which catalyzes the committed enzymatic step in the mannitol cycle. Treatment of E. tenella-infected chickens with nitrophenide resulted in a 90% reduction in oocyst shedding. The remaining oocysts displayed significant morphological abnormalities and were largely incapable of further development. Nitrophenide treatment did not affect parasite asexual reproduction, suggesting specificity for the sexual stage of the life cycle. Isolated oocysts from chickens treated with nitrophenide exhibited a dose-dependent reduction in mannitol, suggesting in vivo inhibition of parasite mannitol biosynthesis. Nitrophenide-mediated inhibition of M1PDH was observed in vitro using purified native enzyme. Moreover, M1PDH activity immunoprecipitated from E. tenella-infected cecal tissues was significantly lower in nitrophenide-treated compared with untreated chickens. Western blot analysis and immunohistochemistry showed that parasites from nitrophenide-treated and untreated chickens contained similar enzyme levels. These data suggest that nitrophenide blocks parasite development at the sexual stages by targeting M1PDH. Thus, targeting of the mannitol cycle with drugs could provide an avenue for controlling the spread of E. tenella in commercial production facilities by preventing oocyst shedding.

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