Ebselen, a reactive organoselenium compound, was shown to inhibit toxins TcdA and TcdB by covalently binding to their cysteine protease domains. It was suggested that ebselen lacked antimicrobial activity against Clostridioides difficile. However, this perception conflicts with C. difficile having essential cysteine-containing enzymes that could be potential targets and the reported antimicrobial activity of ebselen against other species. Hence, we reevaluated the anti-C. difficile properties of ebselen. Susceptibility testing revealed that its activity was either slightly reduced by pyruvate found in Wilkins-Chalgren agar or obliterated by blood in brucella agar. In brain heart infusion (BHI) agar, ebselen inhibited most C. difficile strains (MICs of 2 to 8 μg/ml), except for ribotype 078 that was intrinsically resistant (MIC = 32 to 128 μg/ml). Against C. difficile R20291, at concentrations below its minimal bactericidal concentration (MBC), 16 μg/ml, ebselen inhibited production of toxins and spores. Transcriptome analysis revealed that ebselen altered redox-associated processes and cysteine metabolism and enhanced expression of Stickland proline metabolism, likely to regenerate NAD+ from NADH. In cellular assays, ebselen induced uptake of cysteine, depleted nonprotein thiols, and disrupted the NAD+/NADH ratio. Taken together, killing of C. difficile cells by ebselen occurs by a multitarget action that includes disrupting intracellular redox, which is consistent with ebselen being a reactive molecule. However, the physiological relevance of these antimicrobial actions in treating acute C. difficile infection (CDI) is likely to be undermined by host factors, such as blood, which protect C. difficile from killing by ebselen.
IMPORTANCE We show that ebselen kills pathogenic C. difficile by disrupting its redox homeostasis, changing the normal concentrations of NAD+ and NADH, which are critical for various metabolic functions in cells. However, this antimicrobial action is hampered by host components, namely, blood. Future discovery of ebselen analogues, or mechanistically similar compounds, that remain active in blood could be drug leads for CDI or probes to study C. difficile redox biology in vivo.