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Antimicrob Agents Chemother. 2003 Sep;47(9):2810-6.

Shikonin, a component of chinese herbal medicine, inhibits chemokine receptor function and suppresses human immunodeficiency virus type 1.

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  • 1Basic Research Program, SAIC-Frederick, Inc, National Cancer Institute-Frederick, Frederick, Maryland 21702-1201, USA.


Shikonin is a major component of zicao (purple gromwell, the dried root of Lithospermum erythrorhizon), a Chinese herbal medicine with various biological activities, including inhibition of human immunodeficiency virus (HIV) type 1 (HIV-1). G protein-coupled chemokine receptors are used by HIV-1 as coreceptors to enter the host cells. In this study, we assessed the effects of shikonin on chemokine receptor function and HIV-1 replication. The results showed that, at nanomolar concentrations, shikonin inhibited monocyte chemotaxis and calcium flux in response to a variety of CC chemokines (CCL2 [monocyte chemoattractant protein 1], CCL3 [macrophage inflammatory protein 1alpha], and CCL5 [regulated upon activation, normal T-cell expressed and secreted protein]), the CXC chemokine (CXCL12 [stromal cell-derived factor 1alpha]), and classic chemoattractants (formylmethionyl-leucine-phenylalanine and complement fraction C5a). Shikonin down-regulated surface expression of CCR5, a primary HIV-1 coreceptor, on macrophages to a greater degree than the other receptors (CCR1, CCR2, CXCR4, and the formyl peptide receptor) did. CCR5 mRNA expression was also down-regulated by the compound. Additionally, shikonin inhibited the replication of a multidrug-resistant strain and pediatric clinical isolates of HIV in human peripheral blood mononuclear cells, with 50% inhibitory concentrations (IC(50)s) ranging from 96 to 366 nM. Shikonin also effectively inhibited the replication of the HIV Ba-L isolate in monocytes/macrophages, with an IC(50) of 470 nM. Our results suggest that the anti-HIV and anti-inflammatory activities of shikonin may be related to its interference with chemokine receptor expression and function. Therefore, shikonin, as a naturally occurring, low-molecular-weight pan-chemokine receptor inhibitor, constitutes a basis for the development of novel anti-HIV therapeutic agents.

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