Modifications on C6 and C7 Positions of 3-Phenylquinolone Efflux Pump Inhibitors Led to Potent and Safe Antimycobacterial Treatment Adjuvants

Tommaso Felicetti, Diana Machado, Rolando Cannalire, Andrea Astolfi, Serena Massari, Oriana Tabarrini, Giuseppe Manfroni, Maria Letizia Barreca, Violetta Cecchetti, Miguel Viveiros, Stefano Sabatini

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11 Citations (Scopus)


Nontuberculous mycobacteria (NTM) are ubiquitous microbes belonging to the Mycobacterium genus. Among all NTM pathogens, M. avium is one of the most frequent agents causing pulmonary disease, especially in immunocompromised individuals and cystic fibrosis patients. Recently, we reported the first ad hoc designed M. avium efflux pump inhibitor (EPI; 1b) able to strongly boost clarithromycin (CLA) MIC against different M. avium strains. Since the 3-phenylquinolone derivative 1b suffered from toxicity issues toward human macrophages, herein we report a two-pronged medicinal chemistry workflow for identifying new potent and safe NTM EPIs. Initially, we followed a computational approach exploiting our pharmacophore models to screen FDA approved drugs and in-house compounds to identify "ready-to-use" NTM EPIs and/or new scaffolds to be optimized in terms of EPI activity. Although nicardipine 2 was identified as a new NTM EPI, all identified molecules still suffered from toxicity issues. Therefore, based on the promising NTM EPI activity of 1b, we undertook the design, synthesis, and biological evaluation of new 3-phenylquinolones differently functionalized at the C6/C7 as well as N1 positions. Among the 27 synthesized 3-phenylquinolone analogues, compounds 11b, 12b, and 16a exerted excellent NTM EPI activity at concentrations below their CC50 on human cells, with derivative 16a being the most promising compound. Interestingly, 16a also showed good activity in M. avium-infected macrophages both alone as well as in combination with CLA. The antimycobacterial activity observed for 16a only when tested in the ex vivo model suggests a high therapeutic potential of EPIs against M. avium, which seems to need functional efflux pumps to establish intracellular infections.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)982-1000
Number of pages19
JournalACS Infectious Diseases
Issue number6
Publication statusPublished - 14 Jun 2019


  • 3-phenylquinolones
  • Antibiotic synergy
  • Antimicrobial resistance
  • Efflux pump inhibitors
  • Mycobacterium avium
  • Nontuberculous mycobacteria


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