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Revista do Instituto de Medicina Tropical de São Paulo

Print version ISSN 0036-4665On-line version ISSN 1678-9946

Rev. Inst. Med. trop. S. Paulo vol.58  São Paulo  2016  Epub Sep 22, 2016 



Marcelo Rosandiski LYRA1 

Sonia Regina Lambert PASSOS2  5 

Maria Inês Fernandes PIMENTEL1 

Sandro Javier BEDOYA-PACHECO1 

Cláudia Maria VALETE-ROSALINO1  3  5 

Erica Camargo Ferreira VASCONCELLOS1 

Liliane Fatima ANTONIO1 

Mauricio Naoto SAHEKI1 

Mariza Mattos SALGUEIRO1 

Ginelza Peres Lima SANTOS1 

Madelon Noato RIBEIRO1 


Maria Fatima MADEIRA1  5 

Jorge Luiz Nunes SILVA1 


Armando Oliveria SCHUBACH1  6  7 

(1)Fundação Oswaldo Cruz (FIOCRUZ), Instituto Nacional de Infectologia Evandro Chagas (INI), Laboratório de Pesquisa Clínica e Vigilância em Leishmanioses. Rio de Janeiro, RJ, Brazil. E-mails:;;;;;;;;;;;;;

(2)Fundação Oswaldo Cruz (FIOCRUZ) Instituto Nacional de Infectologia Evandro Chagas (INI), Laboratório de Pesquisa Clínica em Epidemiologia. Rio de Janeiro, RJ, Brazil. E-mail:

(3)Universidade Federal do Rio de Janeiro (UFRJ). Rio de Janeiro, RJ, Brazil. E-mail:

(4)Fundação Oswaldo Cruz (FIOCRUZ), Instituto Oswaldo Cruz (IOC), Laboratório de Imunoparasitologia. Rio de Janeiro, RJ, Brazil. E-mail:

(5)Fellow researcher ("Jovem Cientista do Nosso Estado") of Fundação Carlos Chagas Filho de Amparo à Pesquisa do Estado do Rio de Janeiro (FAPERJ). Rio de Janeiro, RJ, Brazil. E-mails:;;

(6)Fellow researcher of Conselho Nacional de Desenvolvimento Científico e Tecnológico (CNPq), Rio de Janeiro, RJ, Brazil. E-mail:

(7)Fellow researcher ("Cientista do Nosso Estado") of Fundação Carlos Chagas Filho de Amparo à Pesquisa do Estado do Rio de Janeiro (FAPERJ), Rio de Janeiro, RJ, Brazil. E-mail:


American tegumentary leishmaniasis is an infectious disease caused by a protozoan of the genus Leishmania. Pentavalent antimonials are the first choice drugs for cutaneous leishmaniasis (CL), although doses are controversial. In a clinical trial for CL we investigated the occurrence of pancreatic toxicity with different schedules of treatment with meglumine antimoniate (MA). Seventy-two patients were allocated in two different therapeutic groups: 20 or 5 mg of pentavalent antimony (Sb5+)/kg/day for 20 or 30 days, respectively. Looking for adverse effects, patients were asked about abdominal pain, nausea, vomiting or anorexia in each medical visit. We performed physical examinations and collected blood to evaluate serum amylase and lipase in the pre-treatment period, and every 10 days during treatment and one month post-treatment. Hyperlipasemia occurred in 54.8% and hyperamylasemia in 19.4% patients. Patients treated with MA 20 mg Sb5+ presented a higher risk of hyperlipasemia (p = 0.023). Besides, higher MA doses were associated with a 2.05 higher risk ratio (p = 0.003) of developing more serious (moderate to severe) hyperlipasemia. The attributable fraction was 51% in this group. Thirty-six patients presented abdominal pain, nausea, vomiting or anorexia but only 47.2% of those had hyperlipasemia and/ or hyperamylasemia. These findings suggest the importance of the search for less toxic therapeutic regimens for the treatment of CL.

KEYWORDS: Cutaneous leishmaniasis; Therapy; Clinical trial; Meglumine antimoniate; Pancreatitis


Leishmaniasis is endemic in Brazil and in other countries worldwide with an estimated incidence of one million cases each year1. In Rio de Janeiro, almost all the cases of American Tegumentary Leishmaniasis (ATL) are caused by Leishmania braziliensis2. The possibility of infection depends on sandfly density, sources of infection for these vectors, and the existence of susceptible human and animal populations3.

Sodium stibogluconate and meglumine antimoniate (MA) are pentavalent antimony (Sb5+) derivatives used in the treatment of ATL and they are considered similar in terms of efficacy and toxicity. Regular treatment with pentavalent antimonials (10-20 mg Sb5+/kg/day) may result in several adverse effects such as arthralgia, myalgia, transient elevation of hepatocellular enzyme levels, and electrocardiogram (ECG) changes. Other more severe adverse events include acute renal failure, leucopenia and pancreatitis, sometimes leading to the permanent discontinuation of the treatment with these drugs. In this context, a less toxic alternative schedule with MA 5 mg Sb5+/kg/day4,5 have demonstrated to be particularly useful in older patients and in those with co-morbidities6.

Bradley et al.7 defined acute pancreatitis (AP) as an acute inflammatory process of the pancreas with variable involvement of regional tissues or remote organ systems, associated with raised pancreatic enzymes levels in blood and/or urine; AP can vary from asymptomatic laboratory abnormalities (hyperamylasemia and/ or hyperlipasemia) to severe clinical manifestations or death. Other authors8 defined an AP diagnosis as the presence of two or more of the following characteristics: abdominal pain, typical imaging features as found on tomography or magnetic resonance imaging, or at least a threefold increase of serum amylase and/ or lipase levels, above the upper normal limit. However, there is no agreement regarding the exact serum amylase or lipase levels required for a diagnosis of AP9.

Drug-induced pancreatitis has been described10 and represents 2- 5% of reported cases of AP in the general population8,11. After the initial reports proposing an association between acute pancreatitis and antimonial therapy12, it has been suggested that nausea, vomiting and abdominal pain, that have been long recognized adverse effects of the antimonial compound, could be related to pancreatic disorders13.

Although pancreatic toxicity (PT) have also been described in ATL13 almost all the AP cases associated with the use of pentavalent antimonials have been initially reported in adults with visceral leishmaniasis14, and most of them were also renal transplant recipients15 or were co-infected with HIV16. Most of these patients had received other drugs potentially toxic to the pancreas in combination with antimony, a fact that has probably increased the toxicity12,17. However, some of the patients who developed pancreatitis were not taking potentially toxic drugs, were not alcoholics, had normal triglyceride levels, and their biliary tract was normal according to the abdominal ultrasound examination18-20.

Some questions are still unanswered: what is the real frequency of PT related to antimonial therapy? Is there any correlation of PT with the dose of pentavalent antimonial? We therefore investigated PT in 72 patients treated with 20 or 5 mg Sb5+/kg/day of MA included in a clinical trial for cutaneous leishmaniasis (CL).


Patients with CL have been enrolled in a controlled, randomized, blinded, phase III clinical trial of equivalence among the standard treatment regimens and alternative ones with MA (Glucantime (r) - Aventis-Pharma - São Paulo, batch number 604898) administered intramuscularly. The drugs were provided by the National Health Ministry. The trial was registered on - Identifier: NCT01301924. Blinding was maintained during data analysis. The study was performed at the Leishmaniasis Surveillance Laboratory (VIGILEISH), Evandro Chagas National Institute of Infectious Diseases (INI), Oswaldo Cruz Foundation (FIOCRUZ), Brazil, between 2008 and 2012. Patients with CL, over 12 years old, infected in Rio de Janeiro, presenting positive results for Leishmania through one or more methods (scraping technique, histopathology, culture, immunohistochemistry and polymerase chain reaction - PCR) and absence of previous treatment with MA were included. Exclusion criteria were: pregnant women, patients on immunosuppressive therapy, presence of clinical signs/symptoms that are equivalent to adverse effects (AE) level ≥ grade 3 or laboratory abnormalities equivalent to AE level ≥ grade 2. The severity of AE (clinical and laboratory) was adapted from "AIDS Table for Grading Severity of Adult Adverse Experiences, 1992"21 (Table 1).

Table 1 Degrees of clinical toxicity and laboratory abnormalities adapted from "AIDS Table for Grading Severity of Adult Adverse Experiences, 1992" 

Toxicity degree
Grade 1 - mild Grade 2 - moderate Grade 3 - severe Grade 4 - potentially life threatening
Signs and symptoms Sign or symptom transient or mild without activity limitation, without need for medical care or treatment Activity limitation mild to moderate, may require medical care or treatment Important activity limitation, need for medical care or treatment, possible hospitalization Extreme activity limitation, great need for medical care and treatment and probable hospitalization
Amylase > 1.0 - 1.5 x ULN* > 1.5 - 2.0 x ULN > 2.0 - 5.0 x ULN > 5.0 x ULN
Lipase > 1.0 - 1.5 x ULN > 1.5 - 2.0 x ULN > 2.0 - 5.0 x ULN > 5.0 x ULN

Methodology for lipase: colorimetric / bichromatic; Kit Lipase reference DF55A; methodology for amylase: enzymatic/ chromatic, Kit Amylase reference DF27; manufactured by SIEMENS HEALTHCARE DIAGNOSTICS LTD. NEWARK, DE 19714 U.S.A; Reference levels in INI laboratory: amylase 25 - 115 U/L; lipase 73 - 287U/L (*ULN = Upper Limit of Normal Reference Level)

Seventy-two enrolled patients, after signing an informed consent, were randomly assigned to one of the two treatment groups: Group A - 20mg Sb5+/kg/day for 20 days, Group B - 5 mg Sb5+/kg/day for 30 days. The maximum daily dose of antimony did not exceed 1,215 mg Sb5+/kg, as recommended by the Brazilian Health Ministry2. Patients were randomized in blocks of 12, with six patients distributed in each group, amounting to 36 per group. Data from all included patients were analyzed according to intention to treat.

Patients were asked about abdominal pain, nausea, vomiting or anorexia and underwent physical examination with abdominal palpation and evaluation of serum amylase and lipase in pre-treatment, every 10 days during treatment and one month after completion of treatment. Considering the reference levels, we defined PT as any level of increased serum lipase or amylase21.

Clinical AE were evaluated by a single researcher according to a standard form to collect data. We only evaluated data of AE as related to MA when they were considered as definitive or probably related to the drug, defined as: 1) Definitive - relationship with temporal introduction or discontinuation of MA followed by a known response of the suspected drug; 2) Probable - relationship with temporal introduction of MA followed by a known drug response, which could have been produced by other unrelated event.

The statistical analysis was performed using SPSS version 19.0 (IBM Corp, Armonk, NY, USA), Stata version 12.0 (Stata Corp, College Station, TX, USA) and StatXact-8 (Cytel Inc, Cambridge, MA, USA). The chi-square test was used to perform comparisons of categorical variables; p-values < 0.05 indicated significant associations.


Among the 72 studied patients, the mean age was 39 years (SD±16.7), ranging from 15 to 71 years; males have predominated (69.4%). The patients' distribution among treatment groups was homogeneous regarding gender, age and educational level. Fifty percent presented some gastrointestinal manifestation compatible with pancreatitis: anorexia (33.3%), nausea (29.1%), vomiting (15.3%) and abdominal pain (18.0%). Among 36 patients with gastrointestinal complaints, 47.2% had increased serum lipase or amylase. The most frequent reported symptoms (88.4%) were considered mild, while 11.6% had moderate intensity. The frequency of these symptoms was higher in group A than in group B, although not statistically significant.

Hyperamylasemia was present in 14 (19.4%) patients: 13 with grade I and one with grade II. Hyperamylasemia was always accompanied by hyperlipasemia, however it was not significantly associated with any of the studied variables: age, gender, high or low doses. We were unable to perform serum lipase dosage in 10 patients (4 in the high and 6 in the low dose groups). Among the 62 patients that underwent lipase dosage, 34 (54.8%) patients had hyperlipasemia: 17 grade I, 10 grade II and 7 grade III (Table 2). According to the security protocols of the study, 7 patients with grade III hyperlipasemia had to temporarily discontinue the treatment, among them one patient received treatment with 5mg Sb5+/kg/day and six patients with 20 mg Sb5+/kg/day. One of these last six patients died.

Table 2 Adverse effects according to intensity and group of treatment 

Adverse effect Group of Treatment Total n (%)
20mg Sb5+/kg/day N (%) 5 mg Sb5+/kg/day n (%)
Hyperlipasemia* (N=62) Grade I 08 (12.9) 09 (14.5) 17 (27.4)
Grade II 08 (12.9) 02 (3.2) 10 (16.1)
Grade III 06 (9.7) 01** (1.6) 07 (11.3)
Total 22 (35.5) 12 (19.3) 34 (54.8)
Hyperamylasemia (N=72) Grade I 09 (12.5) 04 (5.6) 13 (18.1)
Grade II 01 (1.4) 0 01 (1.4)
Total 10 (13.9) 04 (5.5) 14 (19.4)
Hyperlipasemia + Hyperamylasemia*** (N=62) 10 (13.9) 03 (4.2) 13 (18.1)
Anorexia (N=72) Grade I 17 (23.6) 07 (9.7) 24 (33.3)
Vomiting (N=72) Grade I 05 (6.9) 05 (6.9) 10 (13.9)
Grade II 01 (1.4) 0 01 (1.4)
Abdominal pain (N=72) Grade I 06 (8.3) 02 (2.8) 08 (11.1)
Grade II 02 (2.8) 03 (4.1) 05 (6.9)
Náusea (N=72) Grade I 08 (11.1) 11 (15.2) 19 (26.3)
Grade II 01 (1.4) 01 (1.4) 02 (2.8)

N = Total number of evaluated patients; n = Number of patients with altered exam or symptom. % = percent of patients with altered exam or symptom. * Only 62 patients had serum lipase measured, 30 in 5 mg/kg/day group and 32 in 20 mg/kg/day group. ** Patient was included in the study with hyperlipasemia grade I. *** One patient with hyperamylasemia had not serum lipase measured; Sb5+ = pentavalent antimony

Elevated serum lipase was frequent in both treatment groups 20 mg Sb5+/kg/day (68.8%) and 5 mg Sb5+/kg/day (40.0%). The group who received 20 mg Sb5+/kg/day showed a more frequent increase of serum lipase (RR = 1.81) (p = 0.023). There were no associations between the presence of hyperlipasemia and gender or age ( > 50 years), as shown in Table 3.

Table 3 Association between hyperlipasemia and therapeutic schedules with meglumine antimoniate (MA) for the treatment of cutaneous leishmaniasis (CL), according to age and gender 

Variable Hyperlipasemia n/N (%) RR 95%CI RD AF(%) p-value
Therapeutic scheme 20mg Sb5+/kg/day 22/32 (68.8) 1.81 1.04 - 3.16 0.29 45% 0.023
5mg Sb5/kg/day 12/30 (40.0) 1
Age ≥ 50 11/20 (55.0) 1.01 0.49 - 2.08 0.00 0.6% NS
15 - 49 23/42 (54.8) 1
Gender Male 23/42 (54.8) 0.99 0.71 - 1.41 0.00 0.3% NS
Female 11/20 (55.0) 1

N = Total number of evaluated patients. n = Number of patients with hyperlipasemia. % = percent of patients with hyperlipasemia. NS = not significant. RR = Risk Ratio. 95% CI = 95% Confidence Intervals. RD = Risk Difference. AF = Attributable Fraction.

We found a significant association between high dose and intense hyperlipasemia, with grade II or III (moderate/severe) being more frequent in patients treated with 20 compared to 5 mg Sb5+/kg/day of MA (p = 0.003). The attributable fraction (AF) was 51% for higher doses. Other variables as age and gender were not significantly associated with hyperlipasemia severity (Table 4).

Table 4 Association between moderate and severe degrees of hyperlipasemia and therapeutic schedules with meglumine antimoniate (MA) for the treatment of cutaneous leishmaniasis (CL), according to age and gender 

Variable Hyperlipasemia* Grades II or III n/N (%) RR 95% CI RD AF p valor
Therapeutic scheme 20 mg Sb5+/kg/day 14/32 (43.8) 2.05** 1.35 - 3.13 0.42 51% 0.003
5 mg Sb5/kg/day 3/30 (10.0) 1
Age ≥ 50 6/20 (30.0) 1.13 0.52 - 2.46 0.04 11% NS
15 - 49 11/42 (26.2) 1
Gender Male 11/42 (26.2) 0.94 0.63 - 1.40 - 0.04 06% NS
Female 6/20 (30.0) 1

N = Total number of evaluated patients. n = Number of patients with hyperlipasemia. % = percent of patients with hyperlipasemia. *Grade II: moderate and grade III: Severe. NS = not significant. RR = Risk Ratio. 95% CI = 95% Confidence Intervals. RD = Risk Difference. AF = Attributable Fraction.


In this trial, we observed PT associated with the use of MA in 54.8% of the studied patients with CL, suggesting that this adverse effect is more frequent than usually reported22. Several studies have associated PT with the use of pentavalent antimonials in the treatment of leishmaniasis, however most of them are case reports series or uncontrolled studies23.

Increased serum lipase was the most common and the most severe laboratory abnormality, although hyperamylasemia was not significantly associated with any of the studied variables. Other authors agree that serum lipase is more sensitive and specific than serum amylase as a marker of early pancreatic toxicity9,24. In the presence of AP, serum lipase levels rise earlier and remain elevated for longer than serum amylase25. Despite this obvious advantage, the high cost of measurement of serum lipase has limited its routine use.

Patients treated with 20 mg Sb5+/kg/day of MA presented a higher risk of developing hyperlipasemia than patients treated with 5 mg Sb5+/kg/day. When evaluating only those patients with increased serum lipase levels grade II or III (moderate or severe), patients who received 20 mg Sb5+/kg/day had even a higher risk of this adverse event. The fact that six out of the 7 patients who discontinued treatment due to grade III increased serum lipase had been treated with 20 mg Sb5+/kg/day reinforces this hypothesis.

Gastrointestinal manifestations associated with antimonial treatment were reported18,26. Although in the present study half of the patients complained of gastrointestinal symptoms, we did not find an statistical association with hyperlipasemia/hyperamylasemia. Gasser et al., studying different forms of leishmaniasis treated with sodium stibogluconate 20 mg Sb5+/kg/day demonstrated that 98% of the patients with chemical pancreatitis had also hyperamylasemia and/ or hyperlipasemia, and 47% of them were symptomatic13. Similarly, Lawn et al.23 found hiperamylasemia with sodium stibogluconate in 67% of ATL patients and a threefold amylase increase in 19% of the patients. However, the mechanism of pancreatic disorders during administration of MA or sodium stibogluconate for the treatment of leishmaniasis has not been well established13.

One patient treated with 20 mg Sb5+/kg/day died due to bacterial sepsis in another hospital, during a treatment interruption due to hyperamylasemia grade II and hyperlipasemia grade III. Although data retrieved from her medical records failed to attribute the cause of death to pancreatitis, this relationship cannot be completely discarded. In all other six cases that had to interrupt treatment, normalization of serum amylase and lipase occurred during the period of interruption or at the end of treatment.

It is possible that only the most severe cases of pancreatitis with clinical complaints are routinely diagnosed in primary health care units. The use of schedules with 5 mg Sb5+/kg/day, with lower pancreatic toxicity, may represent an advantage in developing countries where the dosage of amylase and lipase is not largely available in primary health care units. In Brazil, about 22,000 ATL patients are annually treated with 10 to 20 mg Sb5+/kg/day and around 90 deaths are recorded each year during treatment with MA27. It is possible that several of these deaths are related to drug toxicity and some of them could be due to pancreatitis induced by MA. Regarding efficacy, there was no statistically significant difference between treatment groups. This emphasizes the importance of the search for less toxic alternative therapeutic regimens for the treatment of CL in developing countries.

One of the strengths of the study results is the design of study, a randomized blinded clinical trial, conducted by trained personal, applying good clinical practice, using standardized instruments to collect data. Although the sample size was restricted to perform the univariate analysis, a significant difference among the studied groups was found.

Although the increase in serum amylase and lipase are referred to have good accuracy for the diagnosis of AP9, some authors suggest the inclusion of clinical parameters and imaging results to define AP diagnosis 8. Subsequent studies with implementation of imaging methods such as computerized tomography and magnetic resonance imaging would allow a better understanding of pancreatitis/ pancreatic toxicity induced by MA in patients with ATL.


The authors thank all the study participants and the following research staff: Michele Aparecida Ferreira Moreira de Oliveira, Fatima Peres Lima Dantas, Monique Reis da Fonseca, Tânia Salgado de Sousa Torraca, Frederico Pereira Bom Braga, Benivaldo Ramos Ferreira Terceiro, Ana Cristina da Costa Martins, Mariana Reuter Palmeiro, Leonardo Pereira Quintella, Marli Blois da Silva Moreira and Rosana Blois da Silva Moreira.


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27. Brasil. Ministério da Saúde. Sistema de Informação de Agravos de Notificação. Leishmaniose tegumentar americana: casos confirmados notificados no Sistema de Informação de Agravos de Notificação. [cited 2016 Apr 6]. Available from: Available from: ]

FUNDING This work was supported by Evandro Chagas National Institute of Infectious Disease/Oswaldo Cruz Foundation (INI/FIOCRUZ); National Council for Scientific and Technological Development (CNPq); Carlos Chagas Filho Foundation for Research Support in Rio de Janeiro State (FAPERJ); and Strategic Support Program for Health Research (PAPES/FIOCRUZ). The funding sources had no role in study design or data collection, analysis, or interpretation.

4ETHICAL APPROVAL The trial was approved by the Research Ethics Committee of Evandro Chagas National Institute of Infectious Disease (INI), Oswaldo Cruz Foundation (FIOCRUZ), Rio de Janeiro, Brazil, under the number 0055.0.0009.000-07. It was registered on - Identifier: NCT01301924

Received: December 09, 2015; Accepted: April 06, 2016

Correspondence to: Marcelo Rosandiski, Laboratório de Vigilância em Leishmanioses (Lab VigiLeish), Instituto Nacional de Infectologia Evandro Chagas (INI)/Fiocruz, Brasil. Tel.: +55.21.80228384; +55.21.38659541. Av. Brasil 4365, Manguinhos, 21040-360 Rio de Janeiro, Brasil. tel: +55 21 999533820; E-mail:

AUTHOR CONTRIBUTIONS Marcelo R Lyra conceived and designed the experiments, performed the clinical examinations and wrote the paper; Sonia R L Passos conceived and designed the experiments and analyzed data; Maria I F Pimentel performed the clinical examinations, performed critical revision and final approval of article; Sandro J Bedoya-Pacheco analyzed data; Cláudia M Valete-Rosalino performed the clinical examinations; Erica C F Vasconcellos performed the clinical examinations; Liliane F Antonio performed the clinical examinations and analyzed data; Mauricio N Saheki performed the clinical examinations, analyzed data and wrote the paper; Mariza M Salgueiro performed the clinical examinations; Ginelza P L Santos performed the clinical examinations; Madelon N Ribeiro performed the clinical examinations; Fatima Conceição-Silva performed laboratory exams; Maria F Madeira performed laboratory exams; Jorge L N Silva performed laboratory exams; Aline Fagundes performed laboratory exams; Armando O Schubach conceived and designed the experiments, performed critical revision and final approval of article.

COMPETING INTERESTS The authors declare they have no competing interests.

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