Protozoan diseases, such as leishmaniasis, are a cause of considerable morbidity throughout the world, affecting millions every year. In this study, two triterpenic acids (maslinic and oleanolic acids) were isolated from Tunisian olive leaf extracts and their in vitro activity against the promastigotes stage of Leishmania (L.) infantum and Leishmania (L.) amazonensis was investigated. Maslinic acid showed the highest activity with an IC50of 9.32 ± 1.654 and 12.460 ± 1.25 μg/ml against L. infantum and L. amazonensis, respectively. The mechanism of action of these drugs was investigated by detecting changes in the phosphatidylserine (PS) exposure, the plasma membrane permeability, the mitochondrial membrane potential and the ATP level production in the treated parasites. By using the fluorescent probe SYTOX® Green, both triterpenic acids showed that they produce a time-dependent plasma membrane permeabilization in the treated Leishmania species. In addition, spectrofluorimeteric data revealed the surface exposure of PS in promastigotes. Both molecules reduced the mitochondrial membrane potential and decreased the ATP levels to 15% in parasites treated with IC90for 24 h. We conclude that the triterpenic acids tested in this study, show potential as future therapeutic alternative against leishmaniasis. Further studies are needed to confirm this.
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