Genotoxicity of flubendazole and its metabolites in vitro and the impact of a new formulation on in vivo aneugenicity

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The anti-parasitic benzimidazole flubendazole has been used for many years to treat intestinal infections in humans and animals. Previous genotoxicity studies have shown that the compound is not a bacterial mutagen and a bone marrow micronucleus test, using a formulation that limited systemic absorption, was negative. The purpose of this study is to explore the genotoxicity of flubendazole and its main metabolites in in vitro micronucleus studies and to test a new oral formulation that improves systemic absorption in an in vivo micronucleus test. The isolated metabolites were also screened using the Ames test for bacterial mutagenicity. It was found that flubendazole, like other chemically related benzimidazoles used in anti-parasitic therapies, is a potent aneugen in vitro. The hydrolysed metabolite of flubendazole is negative in these tests, but the reduced metabolite (R- and S-forms) shows both aneugenic and clastogenic activity. However, in vitro micronucleus tests of flubendazole in the presence of rat liver S9 gave almost identical signals for aneugenicity as they did in the absence of S9, suggesting that any clastogenicity from the reduced metabolite is not sufficient to change the overall profile. Like flubendazole itself, both metabolites are negative in the Ames test. Analysis of dose–response curves from the in vitro tests, using recently developed point of departure approaches, demonstrate that the aneugenic potency of flubendazole is very similar to related anti-parasitic benzimidazoles, including albendazole, which is used in mass drug administration programmes to combat endemic filarial diseases. The in vivo micronucleus test of the new formulation of flubendazole also showed evidence of induced aneugenicity. Analysis of the in vivo data allowed a reference dose for aneugenicity to be established which can be compared with therapeutic exposures of flubendazole when this has been established. Analysis of the plasma from the animals used in the in vivo micronucleus test showed that there is increased exposure to flubendazole compared with previously tested formulations, as well as significant formation of the non-genotoxic hydrolysed metabolite of flubendazole and small levels of the reduced metabolite. In conclusion, this study shows that flubendazole is a potent aneugen in vitro with similar potency to chemically related benzimidazoles currently used as anti-parasitic therapies. The reduced metabolite also has aneugenic properties as well as clastogenic properties. Treatment with a new formulation of flubendazole that allows increased systemic exposure, compared with previously used formulations, also results in detectable aneugenicity in vivo. Based on the lack of carcinogenicity of this class of benzimidazoles and the intended short-term dosing, it is unlikely that flubendazole treatment will pose a carcinogenic risk to patients.

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