Cancer Drug Tamoxifen Boosts Innate Immune System Via Influence on Ceramides in Neutrophils; May Prove Effective Weapon Against Methicillin-Resistant Staph aureus (MRSA) Bacteria

Researchers at University of California, San Diego (UCSD) School of Medicine and Skaggs School of Pharmacy and Pharmaceutical Sciences have found that the breast cancer drug tamoxifen gives white blood cells (specifically, neutrophils) a boost, better enabling them to respond to, ensnare, and kill bacteria in laboratory experiments. Tamoxifen treatment in mice also enhances clearance of the antibiotic-resistant bacterial pathogen MRSA and reduces mortality. (Note: Image shows neutrophil ingesting MRSA bacteria). The study was published online on October 13, 2015 in Nature Communications. The article is titled “Tamoxifen Augments the Innate Immune Function of Neutrophils through Modulation of Intracellular Ceramide.” "The threat of multidrug-resistant bacterial pathogens is growing, yet the pipeline of new antibiotics is drying up. We need to open the medicine cabinet and take a closer look at the potential infection-fighting properties of other drugs that we already know are safe for patients," said senior author Victor Nizet, M.D., Professor of Pediatrics and Pharmacy at the UCSD Skaggs School of Pharmacy and Pharmaceutical Sciences. Dr. Nizet is also affiliated with Rady Children’s Hospital in San Diego. "Through this approach, we discovered that tamoxifen has pharmacological properties that could aid the immune system in cases where a patient is immunocompromised or where traditional antibiotics have otherwise failed." Tamoxifen targets the estrogen receptor, making it particularly effective against breast cancers that display the molecule abundantly. But some evidence suggests that tamoxifen has other cellular effects that contribute to its effectiveness, too. For example, tamoxifen influences the way cells produce fatty molecules, known as sphingolipids, independent of the estrogen receptor.
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