For enveloped viruses, fusion of the viral envelope with a cellular membrane is critical for a productive infection to occur. This fusion process is mediated by at least three classes of fusion proteins (Class I, II, and III) based on the protein sequence and structure. For Rift Valley fever virus (RVFV), the glycoprotein Gc (Class II fusion protein) mediates this fusion event following entry into the endocytic pathway, allowing the viral genome access to the cell cytoplasm. Here, we show that peptides analogous to the RVFV Gc stem region inhibited RVFV infectivity in cell culture by inhibiting the fusion process. Further, we show that infectivity can be inhibited for diverse, unrelated RNA viruses that have Class I (Ebola virus), Class II (Andes virus), or Class III (vesicular stomatitis virus) fusion proteins using this single peptide. Our findings are consistent with an inhibition mechanism similar to that proposed for stem peptide fusion inhibitors of dengue virus in which the RVFV inhibitory peptide first binds to both the virion and cell membranes, allowing it to traffic with the virus into the endocytic pathway. Upon acidification and rearrangement of Gc, the peptide is then able to specifically bind to Gc and prevent fusion of the viral and endocytic membranes, thus inhibiting viral infection. These results could provide novel insights into conserved features among the three classes of viral fusion proteins and offer direction for the future development of broadly active fusion inhibitors.
Lassa virus (LASV), a member of the Arenaviridae family, causes a viral hemorrhagic fever endemic to West Africa, where as many as 300,000 infections occur per year. Presently, there are no FDA-approved LASV-specific vaccines or antiviral agents, although the antiviral drug ribavirin has shown some efficacy. A recently identified small-molecule inhibitor of arenavirus entry, ST-193, exhibits submicromolar antiviral activity in vitro. To determine the antiviral utility of ST-193 in vivo, we tested the efficacy of this compound in the LASV guinea pig model. Four groups of strain 13 guinea pigs were administered 25 or 80 mg/kg ST-193, 25 mg/kg of ribavirin, or the vehicle by the intraperitoneal (i.p.) route before infection with a lethal dose of LASV, strain Josiah, and continuing once daily for 14 days. Control animals exhibited severe disease, becoming moribund between days 10 and 15 postinfection. ST-193-treated animals exhibited fewer signs of disease and enhanced survival when compared to the ribavirin or vehicle groups. Body temperatures in all groups were elevated by day 9, but returned to normal by day 19 postinfection in the majority of ST-193-treated animals. ST-193 treatment mediated a 2-3-log reduction in viremia relative to vehicle-treated controls. The overall survival rate for the ST-193-treated guinea pigs was 62.5% (10/16) compared with 0% in the ribavirin (0/8) and vehicle (0/7) groups. These data suggest that ST-193 may serve as an improved candidate for the treatment of Lassa fever.
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