Leishmania microtubules play an important role not only in cell division, but also in keeping the shape of the parasite and motility of its free-living stages. Microtubules result from the self-assembly of alpha and beta tubulins, two phylogenetically conserved and very abundant eukaryotic proteins in kinetoplastids. The colchicine binding domain has inspired the discovery and development of several drugs currently in clinical use against parasites. However, this domain is less conserved in kinetoplastids and may be selectively targeted by new compounds. This report shows the antileishmanial effect of several series of compounds (53), derived from podophyllotoxin (a natural cyclolignan isolated from rhizomes of Podophyllum spp.) and podophyllic aldehyde, on a transgenic, fluorescence-emitting strain of Leishmania infantum. These compounds were tested on both promastigotes and amastigote-infected mouse splenocytes, and in mammalian - mouse non-infected splenocytes and liver HepG2 cells - in order to determine selective indexes of the drugs. Results obtained with podophyllotoxin derivatives showed that the hydroxyl group at position C-7α was a structural requisite to kill the parasites. On regards podophyllic aldehyde, derivatives with C9-aldehyde group integrated into a bicyclic heterostructure displayed more potent antileishmanial effects and were relatively safe for host cells. Docking studies of podophyllotoxin and podophyllic aldehyde derivatives showed that these compounds share a similar pattern of interaction at the colchicine site of Leishmania tubulin, thus pointing to a common mechanism of action. However, the results obtained suggested that despite tubulin is a remarkable target against leishmaniasis, there is a poor correlation between inhibition of tubulin polymerization and antileishmanial effect of many of the compounds tested, fact that points to alternative pathways to kill the parasites.

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