Background: Despite the advent of direct-acting antivirals (DAAs), HCV remains an important public health problem globally. There is at present no effective vaccine against the virus, and the DAAs in current use cannot prevent de novo infection, including in liver transplant setting wherein donor livers inevitably become re-infected. Developing inhibitors to HCV entry using nature-derived small molecules may help to expand/complement the current treatment options. Purpose: In this study, we explored the effect of the plant alkaloid berberine (BBR) on HCV early viral entry. Methods: Cell culture-derived HCV (HCVcc), viral pseudoparticles bearing HCV glycoproteins (HCVpp), and entry-related assays were employed to assess BBR's bioactivity. Molecular docking was used to predict BBR-HCV glycoproteins interaction, and the compound's antiviral activity was confirmed against HCVcc infection of primary human hepatocytes (PHHs). Results: BBR specifically impeded HCVcc attachment and entry/fusion steps without inactivating the free virus particles or affecting the expression of host cell entry factors and post-entry viral replication. BBR also effectively inhibited infection by viral pseudoparticles expressing HCV E1/E2 glycoproteins and molecular docking analysis pointed at potential interaction with HCV E2. Finally, BBR could suppress HCVcc infection of PHHs. Conclusions: We identified BBR as a potent HCV entry inhibitor, which merits further evaluation particularly for use in transplant setting against graft re-infection by HCV.
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