Shortening Buruli Ulcer Treatment with Combination Therapy Targeting the Respiratory Chain and Exploiting Mycobacterium ulcerans Gene Decay

Paul Converse, Deepak V. Almeida, Sandeep Tyagi, Jian Xu, Eric L. Nuermberger

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

14 Scopus citations


Buruli ulcer is treatable with antibiotics. An 8-week course of rifampin (RIF) and either streptomycin (STR) or clarithromycin (CLR) cures over 90% of patients. However, STR requires injections and may be toxic, and CLR shares an adverse drug-drug interaction with RIF and may be poorly tolerated. Studies in a mouse footpad infection model showed that increasing the dose of RIF or using the long-acting rifamycin rifapentine (RPT), in combination with clofazimine (CFZ), a relatively well-tolerated antibiotic, can shorten treatment to 4 weeks. CFZ is reduced by a component of the electron transport chain (ETC) to produce reactive oxygen species toxic to bacteria. Synergistic activity of CFZ with other ETC-targeting drugs, the ATP synthase inhibitor bedaquiline (BDQ) and the bc1:aa3 oxidase inhibitor Q203 (now named telacebec), was recently described against Mycobacterium tuberculosis. Recognizing that M. tuberculosis mutants lacking the alternative bd oxidase are hypersusceptible to Q203 and that Mycobacterium ulcerans is a natural bd oxidase-deficient mutant, we tested the in vitro susceptibility of M. ulcerans to Q203 and evaluated the treatment-shortening potential of novel 3- and 4-drug regimens combining RPT, CFZ, Q203, and/or BDQ in a mouse footpad model. The MIC of Q203 was extremely low (0.000075 to 0.00015 g/ml). Footpad swelling decreased more rapidly in mice treated with Q203-containing regimens than in mice treated with RIF and STR (RIFSTR) and RPT and CFZ (RPTCFZ). Nearly all footpads were culture negative after only 2 weeks of treatment with regimens containing RPT, CFZ, and Q203. No relapse was detected after only 2 weeks of treatment in mice treated with any of the Q203-containing regimens. In contrast, 15% of mice receiving RIFSTR for 4 weeks relapsed. We conclude that it may be possible to cure patients with Buruli ulcer in 14 days or less using Q203-containing regimens rather than currently recommended 56-day regimens.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Article numbere00426-19
JournalAntimicrobial agents and chemotherapy
Issue number7
StatePublished - 2019


  • Bedaquiline
  • Buruli ulcer
  • Clofazimine
  • Mouse footpad
  • Mycobacterium ulcerans
  • Q203
  • Rifampin
  • Rifapentine
  • Streptomycin
  • Telacebec

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Pharmacology
  • Pharmacology (medical)
  • Infectious Diseases


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