Email updates

Keep up to date with the latest news and content from Filaria Journal and BioMed Central.

This article is part of the supplement: Report of a Scientific Working Group on Serious Adverse Events following Mectizan® treatment of onchocerciasis in Loa loa endemic areas

Open Access Highly Accessed Open Badges Review

Ivermectin: does P-glycoprotein play a role in neurotoxicity?

Geoffrey Edwards

Author Affiliations

Department of Pharmacology and Therapeutics, The University of Liverpool, Sherrington Buildings, Ashton Street, Liverpool, UK

Division of Molecular and Biochemical Parasitology, Liverpool School of Tropical Medicine, Pembroke Place, Liverpool, UK

Filaria Journal 2003, 2(Suppl 1):S8  doi:10.1186/1475-2883-2-S1-S8

Published: 24 October 2003


The macrocyclic lactone ivermectin (Mectizan®) is widely used for the control of human filarial infections, particularly as a donated product for onchocerciasis and lymphatic filariasis. In the case of control of lymphatic filariasis in Africa, it is used in combination with donated albendazole. In areas co-endemic for Onchocerciasis and Loa loa, serious adverse reactions have been observed in patients with apparently high microfilaria counts of Loa loa. Recent findings suggest that the severe central nervous system side effects seen in various vertebrates following ivermectin treatment may be due to an absence of, or functional deficiency in P-glycoprotein. P-glycoprotein is expressed in the apical membrane of brain capillary epithelial cells and is responsible for limiting the brain penetration of a range of compounds. Toxicity of ivermectin in some collie dogs may be explained by a 4-bp deletion mutation of the mdr1 gene resulting in a frame shift, generating stop codons that prematurely terminate synthesis of P-glycoprotein. Additionally, sub-populations of CF-1 identified as expressing reduced levels of P-glycoprotein exhibit increased toxicity to substrates of this transporter. Furthermore, while the traditional view of drug-drug interactions is alteration in drug clearance mediated through a change in hepatic drug metabolism, some of these changes may arise through competition for binding sites on P-glycoprotein in the blood-brain barrier, resulting in reduced extracellular efflux and enhanced CNS toxicity. In conclusion, P-glycoprotein is an integral component of the human blood brain barrier and plays a central role in limiting drug uptake into the brain. Altered expression or function of p-glycoprotein could conceivably allow elevation of brain concentrations of ivermectin and produce severe neurotoxicity. This might arise through a genetic polymorphism in p-glycoprotein or co-administration of ivermectin with a drug or foodstuff that might inhibit this efflux transporter.