Repurposing tamoxifen as potential host-directed therapeutic for tuberculosis

Publication type
Access rights
Open access
Terms of use
Appears in Collections:
The global burden of tuberculosis (TB) is aggravated by the continuously increasing emergence of drug resistance, highlighting the need for innovative therapeutic options. The concept of host-directed therapy (HDT) as adjunctive to classical antibacterial therapy with antibiotics represents a novel and promising approach for treating TB. Here, we have focused on repurposing the clinically used anticancer drug tamoxifen, which was identified as a molecule with strong host-directed activity against intracellular Mycobacterium tuberculosis (Mtb). Using a primary human macrophage Mtb infection model, we demonstrate the potential of tamoxifen against drug-sensitive as well as drug-resistant Mtb bacteria. The therapeutic effect of tamoxifen was confirmed in an in vivo TB model based on Mycobacterium marinum infection of zebrafish larvae. Tamoxifen had no direct antimicrobial effects at the concentrations used, confirming that tamoxifen acted as an HDT drug. Furthermore, we demonstrate that the antimycobacterial effect of tamoxifen is independent of its well-known target the estrogen receptor (ER) pathway, but instead acts by modulating autophagy, in particular the lysosomal pathway. Through RNA sequencing and microscopic colocalization studies, we show that tamoxifen stimulates lysosomal activation and increases the localization of mycobacteria in lysosomes both in vitro and in vivo, while inhibition of lysosomal activity during tamoxifen treatment partly restores mycobacterial survival. Thus, our work highlights the HDT potential of tamoxifen and proposes it as a repurposed molecule for the treatment of TB. Tuberculosis (TB) is the world's most lethal infectious disease caused by a bacterial pathogen, Mycobacterium tuberculosis. This pathogen evades the immune defenses of its host and grows intracellularly in immune cells, particularly inside macrophages. There is an urgent need for novel therapeutic strategies because treatment of TB patients is increasingly complicated by rising antibiotic resistance. In this study, we explored a breast cancer drug, tamoxifen, as a potential anti-TB drug. We show that tamoxifen acts as a so-called host-directed therapeutic, which means that it does not act directly on the bacteria but helps the host macrophages combat the infection more effectively. We confirmed the antimycobacterial effect of tamoxifen in a zebrafish model for TB and showed that it functions by promoting the delivery of mycobacteria to digestive organelles, the lysosomes. These results support the high potential of tamoxifen to be repurposed to fight antibiotic-resistant TB infections by host-directed therapy.
Boland R, Heemskerk MT., Forn-Cuní G, Santos CC. Repurposing tamoxifen as potential host-directed therapeutic for tuberculosis. mBio. 2023 Feb; 14(1):e03024-22. doi:10.1128/mbio.03024-22.
Link to cite this reference
Journal title
Issue Date

Files in This Item:

Show full item record

This item is licensed under a Creative Commons License Creative Commons