The isoquinoline alkaloid berberine inhibits human cytomegalovirus replication by interfering with the viral Immediate Early-2 (IE2) protein transactivating activity.


Department of Life Sciences and Systems Biology, University of Turin, 10123, Turin, Italy. Electronic address: [Email]


The identification and validation of new small molecules able to inhibit the replication of human cytomegalovirus (HCMV) remains a priority to develop alternatives to the currently used DNA polymerase inhibitors, which are often burdened by long-term toxicity and emergence of cross-resistance. To contribute to this advancement, here we report on the characterization of the mechanism of action of a bioactive plant-derived alkaloid, berberine (BBR), selected in a previous drug repurposing screen expressly devised to identify early inhibitors of HCMV replication. Low micromolar concentrations of BBR were confirmed to suppress the replication of different HCMV strains, including clinical isolates and strains resistant to approved DNA polymerase inhibitors. Analysis of the HCMV replication cycle in infected cells treated with BBR then revealed that the bioactive compound compromised the progression of virus cycle at a stage prior to viral DNA replication and Early (E) genes expression, but after Immediate-Early (IE) proteins expression. Mechanistic studies in fact highlighted that BBR interferes with the transactivating functions of the viral IE2 protein, thus impairing efficient E gene expression and the progression of HCMV replication cycle. Finally, the mechanism of the antiviral activity of BBR appears to be conserved among different CMVs, since BBR suppressed murine CMV (MCMV) replication and inhibited the transactivation of the prototypic MCMV E1 gene by the IE3 protein, the murine homolog of IE2. Together, these observations warrant for further experimentation to obtain proof of concept that BBR could represent an attractive candidate for alternative anti-HCMV therapeutic strategies.


Berberine chloride,Human cytomegalovirus,IE2,IE3,Murine cytomegalovirus,Promoter transactivation,

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