Auranofin and N-heterocyclic carbene gold-analogs are potent inhibitors of the bacteria Helicobacter pylori

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Auranofin is an FDA-approved gold-containing compound used for the treatment of rheumatoid arthritis. Recent reports of antimicrobial activity against protozoa and bacteria indicate that auranofin targets the reductive enzyme thioredoxin reductase (TrxR). We evaluated auranofin as well as five auranofin analogs containing N-heterocyclic carbenes (instead of the triethylphosphane present in auranofin) and five gold-carbene controls for their ability to inhibit or kill Helicobacter pylori in vitro. Auranofin completely inhibited bacterial growth at 1.2 μM. Purified H. pylori TrxR was inhibited by auranofin in a cell-free assay (IC50 ∼88 nM). The most active gold(I)-N-heterocyclic carbene compounds exhibited MICs comparable to auranofin against H. pylori (2 μM), while also exhibiting lower toxicities for human embryonic kidney cells (HEK-293T cells). Median toxic concentrations (TC50) were 13–20-fold higher compared to auranofin indicating that they were less cytotoxic. The N-heterocyclic carbene analogs maybe well tolerated, but further evaluation is needed in vivo. Finally, auranofin was synergistic with the antibiotic amoxicillin, suggesting that targeting both the reductive enzyme TrxR and cell wall synthesis may be effective against H. pylori infections.

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