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Experimental Parasitology 127 (2011) 490–499

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Effect of garlic and allium-derived products on the growth and metabolism of Spironucleus vortens Coralie O.M. Millet a,⇑, David Lloyd a, Catrin Williams a, David Williams b, Gareth Evans b, Robert A. Saunders b, Joanne Cable a a b

School of Biosciences, Cardiff University, Cardiff CF10 3AX, UK NEEM Biotech Limited, Unit 1, Willowbrook Technical Units, Llandogo Road, St. Mellons, Cardiff CF3 0EF, UK

a r t i c l e

i n f o

Article history: Received 26 May 2010 Received in revised form 27 September 2010 Accepted 11 October 2010 Available online 20 November 2010 Keywords: Garlic Allicin Ajoene Dithiins Diplomonad Spironucleus

a b s t r a c t Spironucleus is a genus of small, flagellated parasites, many of which can infect a wide range of vertebrates and are a significant problem in aquaculture. Following the ban on the use of metronidazole in food fish due to toxicity problems, no satisfactory chemotherapies for the treatment of spironucleosis are currently available. Using membrane inlet mass spectrometry and automated optical density monitoring of growth, we investigated in vitro the effect of Allium sativum (garlic), a herbal remedy known for its antimicrobial properties, on the growth and metabolism of Spironucleus vortens, a parasite of tropical fish and putative agent of hole-in-the-head disease. The allium-derived thiosulfinate compounds allicin and ajoene, as well as an ajoene-free mixture of thiosulfinates and vinyl-dithiins were also tested. Whole, freeze-dried garlic and allium-derived compounds had an inhibitory effect on gas metabolism, exponential growth rate and final growth yield of S. vortens in Keister’s modified, TY-I-S33 culture medium. Of all the allium-derived compounds tested, the ajoene-free mixture of dithiins and thiosulfinates was the most effective with a minimum inhibitory concentration (MIC) of 107 lg ml1 and an inhibitory concentration at 50% (IC50%) of 58 lg ml1. It was followed by ajoene (MIC = 83 lg ml1, IC50% = 56 lg ml1) and raw garlic (MIC >20 mg ml1, IC50% = 7.9 mg ml1); allicin being significantly less potent with an MIC and IC50% above 160 lg ml1. All these concentrations are much higher than those reported to be required for the inhibition of most bacteria, protozoa and fungi previously investigated, indicating an unusual level of tolerance for allium-derived products in S. vortens. However, chemically synthesized derivatives of garlic constituents might prove a useful avenue for future research. Ó 2010 Elsevier Inc. All rights reserved.

1. Introduction Aquaculture is the fastest growing animal food production sector, and represented a $63.3 billion global market in 2004 (FAO, 2007). Stress and overcrowding of farmed fish render them particularly susceptible to infectious diseases (Wedemeyer, 1997; Pickering, 1998), and pathogens are recognised to be the main cause of financial losses in aquaculture (Meyer, 1991; Subasinghe et al., 2000). For instance, in Asia alone, diseases in aquaculture have been estimated to cause monetary losses of over $3 billion in 1995 (Chua, 1996). The genus Spironucleus includes several species of parasitic anaerobic protozoan flagellates, some of which infect important species of farmed fish and have a crippling effect on their aquaculture. The most notorious is Spironucleus salmonicida (Jorgensen and Sterud, 2006), which is responsible for devastating outbreaks ⇑ Corresponding author. Address: Main Building, School of Biosciences, Cardiff University, P.O. Box 915, Cardiff CF10 3AX, UK. E-mail addresses: MilletCO@gmail.com, milletCO@cf.ac.uk (C.O.M. Millet). 0014-4894/$ - see front matter Ó 2010 Elsevier Inc. All rights reserved. doi:10.1016/j.exppara.2010.10.001

in salmon farms (Sterud et al., 1998) and may generate up to 100% mortality (Guo and Woo, 2004a,b). Another species, Spironucleus vortens causes significant losses in the ornamental fish industry. Indeed, although a lineage of S. vortens has been isolated from wild ide in Norway (Sterud and Poynton, 2002), the species is mostly known to infect tropical fish, and is the suspected causative agent of hole-in-the-head disease, a very common affliction of ornamental cichlids (Paull and Matthews, 2001). Although antimicrobial compounds have been employed heavily in aquaculture, chemotherapy of infectious diseases in this industry is generally difficult, as the effectiveness of antimicrobials tends to be limited in aquatic environments, especially in open, coastal systems (GESAMP, 1997; Treves-Brown, 1999). Metronidazole, a nitroheterocyclic antibiotic, is the drug of choice in the treatment of a range of anaerobic infections including spironucleosis (Tojo and Santamarina, 1998; Sangmaneedet and Smith, 1999). Although it is currently one of the most widely used drugs in the world, both in medicine and veterinary practice, metronidazole was shown to be genotoxic, mutagenic and


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carcinogenic in rats (Huet et al., 2005; Maher et al., 2008), as well as mutagenic and cytotoxic in fish (Caves and Ergere Gozukara, 2005). This prompted its ban in 1998 from use in aquaculture of European food fish by the Council Regulation 613/98/EEC (L82/14, 1998). Metronidazole is still employed in the aquarium trade, but its use is controversial, as dispersal of this drug on a wide-scale within outdoor, ornamental fish farms, typically within food pellets, raises serious environmental and health concerns. Indeed, this drug is quite water soluble, as well as non-biodegradable, and can therefore resist water and sewage treatments (Richardson and Bowron, 1985), which may result in long-lasting contamination of the aquatic environment. This is likely to have a devastating impact on the natural anaerobic microbial flora (Lanzky and Halling-Sorensen, 1997) and may also encourage drug resistance (Chua, 1996; GESAMP, 1997; Shehadeh and Maclean, 1997; Treves-Brown, 1999). Such severe limitations in the use of metronidazole highlight the need for alternative Spironucleus treatments, in both food and ornamental fish. Garlic Allium sativum has been heavily employed as an antimicrobial in medical folklore throughout history (Whitmore and Naidu, 2000). As antibiotic resistance is becoming an increasingly alarming issue, garlic thus generates an enormous amount of interest. It was shown to inhibit many pathogenic Gram-negative and Gram-positive bacteria, including some vancomycin-resistant enterococci and methicillin resistant Staphylococcus aureus (Ankri and Mirelman, 1999; Ross et al., 2001; Tsao et al., 2003; Iwalokun et al., 2004). Garlic also demonstrates strong antifungal properties against pathogenic species, such as Candida, Aspergillus and Cryptococcus (Pai and Platt, 1995; Shen et al., 1996; Davis, 2005), and proved extremely potent against many human viruses, even destroying HIV-infected cells in vitro (Tsai et al., 1985; Tatarintsev et al., 1992). It also exhibits antimicrobial activity against many parasitic protists, including Trypanosoma, Leishmania, Leptomonas, Trichomonas and Entamoeba (Mirelman et al., 1987; Reuter et al., 1996; Ankri et al., 1997), and was found effective in the treatment of giardiasis (Soffar and Mokhtar, 1991; Harris et al., 2000). Many studies have attempted to breach the basis of garlic’s antimicrobial properties, however, the question is unexpectedly challenging, as the plant has a complex chemistry and contains hundreds of compounds (Whitmore and Naidu, 2000), some of which are extremely unstable (Freeman and Kodera, 1995; Fujisawa et al., 2008a,b) and may act synergistically (Chung et al., 2007). Diallyl thiosulfinate or allicin, an oxygenated sulphur compound extracted from steamed garlic, was originally assumed to be the main antimicrobial in garlic (Cavallito and Bailey, 1944). However, later studies demonstrated allicin-free garlic extracts retain activity against microbes (Fujisawa et al., 2008a,b) and several other compounds in garlic seem to also act as potent antimicrobials. Amongst these, the sulphonated compound vinyl-dithiins and ajoene, a product of the mild oxidation of allicin, have attracted the most interest, as they seem to generate a powerful, broad antimicrobial action, at concentrations sometimes lower than that of allicin (Yoshida et al., 1987; Bierer et al., 1995; Naganawa et al., 1996; Whitmore and Naidu, 2000; Ledezma et al., 2002). Garlic, allicin and other allium-derived compounds have proven effective against several anaerobic protozoan flagellates, however their usefulness in the treatment of S. vortens has not been investigated and susceptibility of the organism to these compounds is unknown. In this study, membrane inlet mass spectrometry and automated optical density monitoring was used to investigate the effect of whole garlic, allicin, ajoene and dithiin on the gas metabolism and growth of S. vortens in vitro, in comparison to metronidazole.

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2. Materials and methods 2.1. Organisms and cultures Spironucleus vortens, ATCC 50386, was obtained from Professor J. Kulda, Charles University, Prague. The pathogen was first isolated from a lip lesion in a freshwater angelfish in Florida in 1991 (Poynton et al., 1995). Trophozoites were cultured axenically at 20 ± 0.5 °C in 15 ml screw-capped Falcon tubes on Keister’s modified TYI-S-33 medium containing (per liter): casein digest (BBL), 20 g; yeast extract (Oxoid), 10 g; glucose (Sigma), 10 g; bovine bile (local slaughter house), 1 ml; NaCl (Merck), 2 g; L-cysteine. HCl (Sigma), 2 g; ascorbic acid sodium salt (Fluka), 0.2 g; K2HPO4 (Merck), 1 g; KH2PO4 (Merck), 0.6 g; ferric ammonium citrate (Sigma), 22.8 mg, heat-inactivated newborn calf serum (Difco), 100 ml. The pH was adjusted to 6.8 with NaOH prior to filter sterilization (0.22 lm pore size). Subculturing was performed routinely at 72 h intervals. Cells were counted on a Fuchs Rosenthal haemocytometer slide, using 0.4% (v/v) Trypan blue as a viability indicator. Motility was also used to assess viability. Cultures were monitored routinely to confirm axenic growth. Exponentially growing cultures were harvested by centrifugation at 800g for 2 min at room temperature in a bench centrifuge (MSE minor), washed twice in phosphate buffer (0.1 M, pH 6.8) and resuspended in PBS (0.1 M, pH 6.8) containing 10 mM glucose.

2.2. Inhibitors Freeze-dried powder of whole Chinese garlic was obtained from Cultech Ltd. and kept in a sealed bag at 30 °C. HPLC analysis of this garlic by NEEM Biotech Ltd. revealed that the powder contained 0.223 (w/w)% allicin, but no detectable amounts of ajoene. Stock solutions (20 mg ml1) were prepared by dissolving the powder in PBS (0.1 M, pH 6.8) or culture medium, vortex mixing for 10 min and centrifuging at 3000g for 20 min. Solutions were then filtered through 0.2 lm porosity syringe filters, diluted as required in culture medium and used immediately. Metronidazole (Sigma) was dissolved in acidified buffer (final concentration 50 mM), slowly brought back to pH 6.8 with NaOH, filtered through a 0.2 lm porosity syringe filter, diluted as required and used immediately. Allicin was produced by NEEM Biotech Ltd. according to the US patent 7179632 and HPLC analysis established its purity at 99% (w/ w). Ajoene and dithiin were also prepared by NEEM Biotech Ltd. according to the methods described by Block et al. (1986). Ajoene was produced by mild oxidation of a solution of pure allicin. Briefly, a solution of allicin was refluxed as a 10% solution in 3:2 acetone/water for 4 h, diluted with methanol and repeatedly extracted with pentane to remove non-polar materials and polysulphinates: the mixture was then extracted with methylene chloride and concentrated. The resulting oily extract of ajoene was a mixture of diastereoisomers with a ratio of 3:1 E:Z. and was established to be 75% (w/w) pure by HPLC. HPLC revealed that the remaining 25% (w/w) contained 12 breakdown products of allicin, including dithiins. The respective proportion of these compounds was not determined. Dithiins were concentrated from raw garlic as described below. Chopped garlic pieces were soaked in methanol for 3 days. The concentrate was suspended in water and extracted with diethyl ether. The diethyl ether extract was concentrated, and the residue was stored at 25 °C for 4 days as a 10% solution in methanol, suspended in water and repeatedly extracted with hexane to separate the less polar compounds from the more polar ones. The aqueous methanolic layer was then extracted with methylene chloride. Concentration of the hexane and methylene chloride extracts separately afforded yellow oils.


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The major non-polar components were thereby identified as diallyl disulfide, diallyl trisulfide, diallyl tetrasulfide, allyl methyl trisulfide, 2-vinyl-4H-1,3-dithiin, 3-vinyl-4H-1,2-dithiin and allicin. Concentration of dithiins in the resulting oil was 32% (w/w) by HPLC. Allicin, ajoene and dithiin were diluted in DMSO as required and used immediately. 2.3. Membrane inlet mass spectrometry The effect of various concentrations of garlic, allicin and metronidazole on gas metabolism by S. vortens was investigated by membrane inlet mass spectrometry by measuring levels of dissolved O2, CO2 and H2 in continuously stirred cell suspensions of log-phase trophozoites. Full methodology is described in Lloyd et al. (1992). Briefly, dissolved gases were measured using a Hal series quadrupole mass spectrometer (Hiden Analytical) fitted with a 10 cm, 1.6 mm dia. stainless steel inlet probe covered by a gas-permeable polymer membrane (1.56 mm outside dia., 0.5 mm internal dia., 5 cm length) sealed into a 1 cm length of quartz-glass tube. The inlet orifice was 100 lm dia., and the membrane used was silicone rubber catheter tube. The probe was used to measure concentrations of dissolved gases within a 5 ml cell suspension maintained at 20 °C in a closed Perspex vessel with magnetic stirring at 200 rpm. Mass to charge ratios (m/z) used to measure the concentrations of H2, ethanol, O2 and CO2 were 2, 31, 32 and 44, respectively. Solubilities of H2 and O2 at 20 °C were 810 and 1390 lM, respectively (Wilhelm et al., 1977). CO2 calibrations employed additions of 3.3 mM NaHCO3. At 20 °C and pH 6.9, total free CO2 (as opposed to HCO3 and CO32 which are not detected by the mass spectrometer) was 25% (Wilhelm et al., 1977). Ethanol is known to give a signal on the m/z = 2 channel, at which H2 is normally detected. To avoid non-specific detection of ethanol on this channel, both ethanol and H2 calibrations were performed at m/z = 2. Ethanol calibrations employed stepwise additions of 2 mM C2H5OH. Under the conditions employed here, addition of 6 mM ethanol did not cause any increase on the m/z = 2 channel, thus ensuring that this channel is specific for the detection of H2. Log-phase trophozoites were harvested by centrifugation as described above, washed thoroughly in PBS (3), resuspended in 5 ml PBS with 10 mM added glucose, and introduced into the reaction vessel. Inhibitors were added into the reaction vessel at the start of each experiment using a Hamilton syringe. Experiments were replicated 3–6 times. In order to determine whether a given concentration of an inhibitor had an significant effect on gas production, the data obtained from all replicates of individual concentrations tested was pooled and one-way analysis of variance (ANOVA), as well as Fisher a priori analysis were used to detect statistically significant differences between individual concentrations at a 95% confidence level (Minitab 13). 2.4. Growth in Bioscreen C Bioscreen C (Labsystems, Finland), an automated optical density-monitoring system, was used to monitor growth of S. vortens in 100 well honeycomb plates, in the presence of garlic, garlic derived compounds and metronidazole. Inhibitors were diluted in buffer, culture medium or DMSO (see above), added to 340 ll of Keister’s modified TY-I-S33 culture medium, and 10 ll of homogenised log-phased cultures and introduced into triplicate wells. In order to avoid optical density differences between wells in the Bioscreen experiments, garlic solutions were dissolved in culture medium and all dilutions of allicin, ajoene, dithiin and metronidazole were prepared so that the same volume of buffer or DMSO (0.35 ll) was introduced into all wells. For garlic and metronidazole experiments, triplicate control wells were filled with 340 ll of medium and 10 ll inoculate. As allicin, ajoene and dithiin solutions

contained DMSO, separate controls containing the same amount of DMSO were set up, and three control wells were filled with 339.7 ll culture medium, 0.34 ll DMSO and 10 ll inoculate. Turbidity within wells was measured by OD on a vertical light path, using a wideband filter (420–580 nm) every 20 min for 120 h. Heat transfer fluid circulation maintained a constant temperature of 25 °C, the temperature reported as optimal for the growth of this organism (see Sangmaneedet and Smith, 2000). Plates were shaken at low amplitude for 5 s before each reading. OD measurements were logged, plotted against time, and exponential growth rates (l), doubling times (Td) and final yields were extrapolated from growth curves by applying the following formula:

l ¼ 2:303ðlog10 ODt2  log10 ODt1 Þ=ðt2  t1 Þ T d ¼ ln 2=l yield ¼ ODtf  ODt0 With ODt0 the optical density at the start of the experiment, and ODtf the optical density after 100 h of growth. In order to determine whether a given concentration of an inhibitor had an effect on exponential growth rates or final growth yield, the data obtained from all replicates of individual concentrations tested was pooled and one-way analysis of variance (ANOVA), as well as Fisher a priori analysis were used to detect statistically significant differences between individual concentrations at a 95% confidence level. The lowest concentration of the compound to completely inhibit growth, or minimum inhibitory concentration (MIC) and the concentration at which the growth was reduced by 50% (inhibitory concentration at 50% or IC50%) were derived from fitted curves of plots of total yield against inhibitor concentrations. Complete inhibition of growth by a compound was achieved when growth rate was null. 3. Results Of all the allium-derived compounds tested, the ajoene-free mixture of dithiins and thiosulfinates was the most effective, followed by ajoene, freeze-dried Chinese garlic and allicin (see Table 1). 3.1. Effect of freeze-dried Chinese garlic, allicin and metronidazole on the gas metabolism of S. vortens When introduced into air saturated buffer, S. vortens trophozoites rapidly consume O2 and produce CO2. Once microaerobic conditions are reached, H2 started being produced (see Millet et al., 2010). Freeze-dried Chinese garlic significantly inhibited O2 consumption, CO2 production and H2 production of S. vortens at concentrations of 0.6 mg ml1 and above (one-way ANOVA and Fisher a priori analyses of pooled data at a 95% confidence level; Fig. 1A). Allicin concentrations of up to 50 lg ml1 did not affect gas metabolism significantly. At 100 lg ml1, allicin significantly reduced rates of O2 consumption and H2 production but CO2 production was unaffected (Fig. 1B). Metronidazole inhibited H2 production at concentrations of 85.6 lg ml1 and above, and CO2 production at concentrations of 171.2 lg ml1 and above. O2 consumption was not affected by up to 342.4 lg ml1 metronidazole (Fig. 1C). 3.2. Effect of freeze-dried Chinese garlic, allium-derived compounds and metronidazole on the growth rates and total yields of S. vortens in TY-I-S33 culture medium In the absence of an inhibitor, S. vortens exhibited a biphasic growth curve (see Fig. 2), and growth could therefore be characterised


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Table 1 Comparison of the action of metronidazole, garlic and allium-derived compounds on the growth of Spironucleus vortens. MIC = minimum inhibitory concentration, IC50% = concentration at which the growth was reduced by 50%. Inhibitor

MIC (lg ml1)

IC50% (lg ml1)

Significantly reduces growth rate from (lg ml1)

Significantly reduces final growth yield from (lg ml1)

Freeze dried garlic Allicin Ajoene (75%) and allicin (25%) Dithiins (32%) and ajoene-free mixture of thiosulfinates Metronidazole

>20,000 >160 107 83

7900 >160 58 56

1000 10 10 5

10,000 40 80 40

<8.56

<8.56

<8.56

<8.56

Fig. 1. Influence of (A) freeze-dried powder of whole Chinese garlic, (B) allicin and (C) metronidazole on gas metabolism of Spironucleus vortens. Whole garlic concentrations are indicated on the lower x axis of (A) and allicin content of that whole garlic on the upper x axis of (A). Washed organisms were resuspended in air-saturated PBS containing the inhibitor and 10 mM glucose, and introduced into a closed reaction vessel at 20 °C. The mass spectrometer was programmed to scan mass spectra repeatedly, collecting 128 spectra, before presenting data quasi-continuously at m/z values 2, 32 and 44, corresponding to peak values for H2, O2 and CO2, respectively. Rates of O2 consumption, CO2 production and H2 production were derived by linear regression analyses, and lines were fitted between data points using Microsoft Excel. Experiments were replicated 3–6 times at each concentration tested and standard errors are plotted around the means.

by the following parameters: exponential growth rate in the first log phase (l1), exponential growth rate in the second log phase (l2), and the total yield after 100 h of growth (see Millet et al., in press). Addition of inhibitors affects growth rates and yield, as exemplified in Fig. 2, which shows the effect of selected ajoene concentrations on S. vortens growth curves. The effects of freeze-dried Chinese garlic, allium-derived inhibitors and metronidazole on the exponential growth rates (l1 and l2) of S. vortens are presented in Fig. 3. MICs and IC50% were derived from the influence of inhibitors on total yield after 100 h of growth, as shown in Fig. 4. Both growth rates were sig-

nificantly reduced in the presence of garlic by 1 mg ml1 (see Fig. 3A) and total yield was lowered by 10 mg ml1 garlic (one-way ANOVA and Fisher a priori analyses, see Fig. 4A). The lowest concentration of garlic to completely inhibit S. vortens growth (MIC) was not determined in the current study, as it was above the highest concentration tested (20 mg ml1, see Fig. 4A). An IC50% of 7.9 mg ml1 is derived from the fitted curve of total yields (Fig. 4A). Exponential growth rates were significantly decreased at allicin concentrations of 10 lg ml1 and above (see Fig. 3B), and total yield was lowered from 40 lg ml1 (see Fig. 4B). Fig. 4B shows that


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Fig. 2. Representative example of the output of automated optical density monitoring (Bioscreen C) of Spironucleus vortens cultures upon addition of inhibitors. In TY-I-S33 culture medium, S. vortens exhibits a biphasic growth; the first (l1) and second (l2) exponential growth rates are indicated on the control growth curve. In order to illustrate how addition of inhibiting compounds affects growth curves, growth rates of S. vortens upon addition of increasing ajoene concentrations are plotted. Triplicate samples were analysed for six ajoene concentrations ranging from 0 to 120 lg ml1, however in the interest of clarity, only a single replicate for three selected ajoene concentrations tested is plotted.

both MIC and IC50% were above the highest concentration tested (160 lg ml1). The crude extract of ajoene (75% ajoene, 25% allicin and allicin breakdown products) significantly reduced l1 from 5 lg ml1, which corresponds to 3.75 lg ml1 of pure ajoene. l2 was lowered at concentrations of 10 lg ml1 of crude oil (equivalent to 7.50 lg ml1 of pure ajoene) and above (see Fig. 3C), and total yield was significantly reduced from 80 lg ml1 (equivalent to 60 lg ml1 of pure ajoene, see Fig. 4C). An MIC of 107 lg ml1 of crude ajoene extract was derived from the fitted curve of total yields (see Fig. 4C). This is equivalent to 80 lg ml1 of pure ajoene. The IC50% of crude ajoene extract derived from the fitted curve of total yields was 58 lg ml1 (Fig. 4C). This is equivalent to 43.5 lg ml1 of pure ajoene. The crude extract of dithiins (32% dithiins, 68% mixed thiosulfinates) significantly reduced both exponential growth rates from 5 lg ml1 (equivalent to 1.60 lg ml1 of pure dithiins, see Fig. 3D), and lowered total yield at concentrations of 40 lg ml1 and above (equivalent to 12.8 lg ml1 of pure dithiins, see Fig. 4D). An MIC of 83 lg ml1 of crude dithiins extract was derived from the fitted curve of total yields (Fig. 4D). This is equivalent to 27 lg ml1 of pure dithiin. The IC50% of crude dithiin extract derived from the fitted curve of Fig. 4D was 56 lg ml1, which is equivalent to 18 lg ml1 of pure dithiin. Exponential growth rates (see Fig. 3E) and total yields (see Fig. 4E) of S. vortens were significantly reduced upon addition of 8.56 lg ml1 metronidazole and above. Fig. 4E shows that both MIC and IC50% for metronidazole were under 8.56 lg ml1, the lowest concentration tested.

4. Discussion This study shows that garlic and allium-derived compounds have an inhibitory effect on S. vortens. Of the all allium-derived compounds tested, the ajoene-free mixture of dithiins and thiosulfinates was the most effective, followed by ajoene, raw garlic and allicin, however the concentrations of garlic and

allium-derived compounds required to inhibit growth of the parasites are much higher than that of metronidazole (see Table 1). Garlic slows gas metabolism and growth of S. vortens at concentrations above 500 lg ml1. However, extremely high concentrations (10 mg ml1 and above) are required to significantly affect the final growth yield after 80 h, suggesting that the lower concentrations of the compound only have a transient, static effect on S. vortens. IC50% was 7.85 mg ml1, but the MIC could not be determined, as the highest concentration tested (20 mg ml1) did not completely inhibit growth after 80 h. Much lower concentrations of garlic have been shown to completely inhibit growth of the distantly related diplomonad parasite, Giardia duodenalis (MIC = 0.30 mg ml1; Harris et al., 2000, 2001) and administration of twice daily doses of 1 mg ml1 aqueous garlic for 72 h was shown to cure giardiasis and completely eliminate cysts from stools in humans (Soffar and Mokhtar, 1991). Although there is a somehow large genetic distance between Giardia and Spironucleus (Jorgensen and Sterud, 2007), such a strong difference in susceptibility to garlic remains surprising. Variation in experimental design for MIC determination may also have contributed to the stark difference in MIC values between Spironucleus and Giardia, as MIC values in Giardia were based on cell density after 24 h of growth (Harris et al., 2000, 2001), while in the current study, they were based on optical density of cultures after 100 h of growth. As some of the many volatile compounds in garlic are known to be quite unstable in aqueous solutions (Freeman and Kodera, 1995; Fujisawa et al., 2008a), the length of growth incubation may indeed have had a strong influence on the values for MIC. Nonetheless, these results show that the use of a single dose of concentrated aqueous garlic would not be efficient in the treatment of spironucleosis, and the effect of multiple doses over several subcultures should be investigated to assess potential usefulness of this plant in managing the parasite. Allicin, believed to be the main antimicrobial in garlic (Cavallito and Bailey, 1944; Whitmore and Naidu, 2000; Hunter et al., 2005), showed surprisingly little inhibitory effect on gas metabolism of S. vortens, and only inhibited O2 consumption and H2 production at


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100 lg ml1. Even at this high concentration, CO2 production was not significantly reduced. Growth rates were reduced from controls at concentrations equal or exceeding 10 lg ml1. However, as with garlic, much higher concentrations (40 lg ml1 and above) were required to significantly reduce the final yield, which sug-

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gests that at low concentrations, the action of the compound is also mainly transient and microbiostatic, rather than truly microbiocidal. MIC and IC50% could not be determined, as the highest concentration of allicin tested (160 lg ml1) did not completely inhibit growth or even reduce it by 50%. Again, this finding is rather sur-

Fig. 3. Influence of (A) freeze-dried powder of whole Chinese garlic, (B) allicin, (C) ajoene, (D) dithiins and (E) metronidazole on the exponential growth rates of Spironucleus vortens. Exponential growth rates (l1 and l2) during the biphasic growth of S. vortens in Keister’s modified TY-I-S33 culture medium were recorded by Bioscreen C upon addition of inhibitors. Whole garlic concentrations are indicated on the lower x axis of (A) and allicin content of that whole garlic on the upper x axis of (A). Crude oil concentrations from the ajoene (B) and dithiin (C) extracts are plotted on the upper x axis and pure compound content on the lower x axis. Exponential growth rates were derived by linear regression analyses. Experiments were replicated three times at each concentration tested and standard errors are plotted around the means.


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prising, as most bacteria investigated for sensitivity to allicin have IC50% ranging from 3 to 15 lg ml1 (Gupta and Ravishankar, 2005), and antifungal activity is generally displayed between 0.3 and 32 lg ml1 (Ankri et al., 1997; Yamada and Azuma, 1997; Davis, 2005; Fry et al., 2005). So far, only mucoid strains of some bacteria were found to have IC50% above 100 lg ml1 (Uchida et al., 1975; Ruddock et al., 2005), and such high level resistance is probably due to the physical protection conferred by the mucus S. vortens. ATCC was isolated from a diseased angelfish in 1991 (Poynton

et al., 1995), and maintained in culture thereafter. Although the authors used antibiotics on the cultures only sporadically, prior to its arrival in the laboratory, this strain was routinely subcultured with amikacin (250 lg ml1) and penicillin G (1000 U ml1), which may have contributed to select for organisms with high tolerance to antimicrobials. Indeed, although these drugs are not designed to target eukaryotic cells, they are far from innocuous (Cunha, 2001; Van Bambeke et al., 2003), and may therefore promote the appearance or over-expression of traits that could interfere with

Fig. 4. Influence of (A) freeze-dried powder of whole Chinese garlic, (B) allicin, (C) ajoene, (D) dithiins and (E) metronidazole on the total growth yield of Spironucleus vortens in Keister’s modified TY-I-S33 culture medium. Whole garlic concentrations are indicated on the lower x axis of (A) and allicin content of that whole garlic on the upper x axis of (A). Crude oil concentrations from the ajoene (B) and dithiin (C) extracts are plotted on the upper x axis and pure compound content on the lower x axis. Total yield by OD after 100 h (recorded by Bioscreen C) is plotted against inhibitor concentration, and a fitted curve is used to derive the lowest concentration to completely inhibit growth (MIC) and the concentration at which 50% of growth is inhibited (IC50%). Experiments were replicated three times at each concentration tested and standard errors are plotted around the means.


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the action of allium-derived compounds. For instance decreased permeability of the membrane or increased efficiency of general efflux mechanisms could lead to a lowered efficiency of alliumderived compounds. It should be noted that 7.85 mg of garlic (the IC50% for this compound), contains 18 lg of pure allicin, however, the IC50% of pure allicin was higher than 160 lg ml1. Moreover, the concentration of allicin ranged from 0 to 100 lg ml1 in the mass spectrometric analysis of gas metabolism, and from 0 to 160 lg ml1 in the automated optical density monitoring of growth. These allicin concentrations are much higher than that contained in the whole garlic powder experiments (0–13.38 lg ml1 for the mass spectrometry, and 0–44.60 lg ml1 for the growth monitoring, see Figs. 1 and 3), and yet they had considerably less inhibitory effect on gas metabolism, growth rates and final yields. This suggests that despite the long-standing belief that allicin is the main antimicrobial compound in garlic, the observed inhibitory properties of garlic on S. vortens are not due to allicin, or that allicin is only efficient when acting synergistically with other garlic components. Ajoene crude oil (75% pure, with 25% allicin and allicin breakdown products) was more efficient than allicin, as it reduced growth rates of S. vortens from 5 to 10 lg ml1, equivalent to 3.75–7.5 lg ml1 of pure ajoene oil. As for whole garlic and allicin, significant inhibition of growth yield after 80 h only occurred at much higher concentrations (80 lg ml1 of crude oil, which corresponds to 60 lg ml1 of pure ajoene). The MIC and IC50% were respectively 107 and 58 lg ml1 of crude ajoene extract. This corresponds to 80 and 44 lg ml1 of pure ajoene (Fig. 4C) These values are much lower than that of either whole garlic or allicin, and unless extraordinarily powerful synergistic effects are at play, the allicin content of that crude oil (25%), could hardly be deemed responsible for this stronger antimicrobial effect, as the much higher concentrations of pure allicin tested (Figs. 3B and 4B) generated far less inhibition in S. vortens. However, if ajoene appears more efficient at inhibiting growth of S. vortens than either allicin or whole garlic, the values obtained for MIC of the compound are still considerably higher than that found in other parasitic protozoa and yeasts; 2.34 lg ml1 for Leishmania (see Ledezma et al., 2002) and 5.5–13 lg ml1 for Candida, Schizosaccharomyces and Saccharomyces (see Yoshida et al., 1987; Naganawa et al., 1996). Rather, they fall in range with the values obtained for the most resistant of Gram-positive bacteria (4–136 lg ml1) and Gram-negative bacteria (116–152 lg ml1, see Naganawa et al., 1996; Ohta et al., 1999; Whitmore and Naidu, 2000). The dithiin extract used in the current study was concentrated from chopped garlic, and its purity was only 32%. The remaining fraction was a mixture of diallyl disulfide, diallyl trisulfide, diallyl tetrasulfide, allyl methyl trisulfide and allicin, but individual compounds were not quantified. As most of these compounds have been found to have some antimicrobial activity (Avato et al., 2000; O’Gara et al., 2000; Whitmore and Naidu, 2000; Tsao and Yin, 2001; Tsao et al., 2007), it is difficult to assess the actual antimicrobial effect of dithiin here, but the mixture was slightly more efficient at inhibiting growth of S. vortens than the crude extract of ajoene. Growth rates of the organism were inhibited from 5 lg ml1 of crude oil, and final yield was reduced significantly at a concentration of 40 lg ml1 of the crude oil and above. MIC and IC50% were 83 and 56 lg ml1, respectively, which is slightly lower than what is obtained for the crude ajoene extract. This small difference in antimicrobial activity may be attributed to the higher potency of dithiins, but may also be explained by the synergistic effect of the many antibacterial compounds present in the mixtures. As the antimicrobial activity of dithiins documented so far were lower than that of ajoene (MIC >100 lg ml1 vs. 15– 20 lg ml1 for ajoene against Helicobacter pylori; see Ohta et al., 1999), the synergistic hypothesis seems more likely. However fur-

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ther work, using better defined and purer extracts, is required to address this question. In comparison to allium-derived compounds, metronidazole completely inhibited growth rates and final growth yield of S. vortens at very low concentrations (MIC and IC50% being both well below 8.56 lg ml1). These concentrations are much lower than the recommended peak serum concentrations for the treatment of Giardiasis in humans (40 lg ml1 when administered orally and 18–25 lg ml1 by IV (Madanagopalan et al., 1975; Freeman et al., 1997), which confirms the susceptibility of S. vortens to this drug (Sangmaneedet and Smith, 1999). Strangely, the much stronger inhibitory effect of metronidazole on growth rates and final growth yield of S. vortens is not reflected in its inhibition of H2 and CO2 production, which is in the range of allicin exposure. This may be due to the delayed action of the drug, which requires activation by the parasites, before exhibiting antimicrobial properties. The absence of inhibition of O2 consumption by metronidazole has already been described in Trichomonas vaginalis (Lloyd and Pedersen, 1985; Yarlett et al., 1986; Ellis et al., 1992) and Giadia intestinalis (Gillin and Reiner, 1982; Sousa and Poiares-Da-Silva, 1999), and is probably due to the fact that the drug can only be activated under anaerobic conditions. In conclusion, although this study established that all alliumderived compounds have an inhibitory effect on S. vortens, the potency of these compounds against this parasite was much lower than for most of other protozoa, fungi and bacteria investigated so far. In sharp contrast to metronidazole, which had biocidal effects at very low concentrations, allium-derived compounds slowed the growth of S. vortens at low concentrations, but only inhibited total growth yield at much higher doses. This was particularly true of whole garlic, the concentration of which that was required to lower final growth yield being 10 times that needed to slow growth rates (versus four times for allicin and eight times for ajoene and dithiins). Interestingly, MICs of ajoene and dithiins were less than twice as high as their IC50%, while for whole garlic, the MIC value was more than 2.5 times higher than the IC50%. Many aquarists believe that addition of 1–2% garlic in the feed cures a variety of parasitic infections, however, to date, few conclusive studies have been conducted in vivo. In light of our investigations, it appears that such garlic concentrations would have little antimicrobial effect on S. vortens trophozoites within the intestine, especially as the acid conditions in the stomach are likely to destroy many of the active compounds in garlic (Freeman and Kodera, 1995; Fujisawa et al., 2008a,b). Higher doses of garlic, or purified thiosulfinates may prove more effective, however, an assessment of the toxicity of such doses for the fish is required to establish the practical usefulness of these compounds. It seems likely that repeated treatments regimes would be required to eliminate the parasites. Alternatively, some garlic constituents could be used as lead compounds in the chemical synthesis of agents with increased potency.

Acknowledgments The authors are deeply indebted to Prof. Jaroslav Kulda for his expert advice and guidance in the culture of the organism. Thanks also to Dr. Sue Plummer of Cultech Biospecialities, Baglan, Port Talbot for supplying freeze-dried garlic powder. Thanks to Dr. Eshwar Mahenthiralingam for allowing the use of his Bioscreen C automated optical density reader and to Drs. Jonathan Wood and Victoria Gray for their advice on Bioscreen data analysis. This work was funded by the William E. Morgan Scholarship to COMM, an EPSRC (EP/H501118/1) studentship to C.F.W. with CASE Partner, Neem Biotech Ltd. and a Natural Environment Research Council, UK, Research Fellowship to J.C. (NER/J/S/2002/00706).


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allicin against Spironucleus vortens  

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