Cryptosporidiosis is a major cause of diarrheal disease. The only drug approved for cryptosporidiosis has limited efficacy in high-risk populations. Therefore novel drugs are urgently needed. We have identified several enzymes as potential targets for drug development and we have optimized a rapid method to silence genes in Cryptosporidium. In this study, we knocked down expression of the four selected genes: Actin (Act), Apicomplexan DNA-binding protein (Ap2), Rhomboid protein 1 (Rom 1), and nucleoside diphosphate kinase (NDK). After gene silencing, we evaluated the role of each target on parasite development using in vitro models of excystation, invasion, proliferation, and egress. We showed that silencing of Act, Ap2, NDK, and Rom1 reduced invasion, proliferation, and egress of Cryptosporidium. However, silencing of NDK markedly inhibited Cryptosporidium proliferation (~70%). We used an infection model to evaluate the anticryptosporidial activity of ellagic acid (EA), an NDK inhibitor. We showed that EA (EC50 = 15–30 µM) reduced parasite burden without showing human cell toxicity. Here, we demonstrated the usefulness of a rapid silencing method to identify novel targets for drug development. Because EA is a dietary supplement already approved for human use, this compound should be studied as a potential treatment for cryptosporidiosis.
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