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J Virol. 2005 Apr;79(8):4599-609.

Inhibition of flavivirus infections by antisense oligomers specifically suppressing viral translation and RNA replication.

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Wadsworth Center, New York State Department of Health, 120 New Scotland Ave., Albany, NY 12208, USA.


RNA elements within flavivirus genomes are potential targets for antiviral therapy. A panel of phosphorodiamidate morpholino oligomers (PMOs), whose sequences are complementary to RNA elements located in the 5'- and 3'-termini of the West Nile (WN) virus genome, were designed to anneal to important cis-acting elements and potentially to inhibit WN infection. A novel Arg-rich peptide was conjugated to each PMO for efficient cellular delivery. These PMOs exhibited various degrees of antiviral activity upon incubation with a WN virus luciferase-replicon-containing cell line. Among them, PMOs targeting the 5'-terminal 20 nucleotides (5'End) or targeting the 3'-terminal element involved in a potential genome cyclizing interaction (3'CSI) exhibited the greatest potency. When cells infected with an epidemic strain of WN virus were treated with the 5'End or 3'CSI PMO, virus titers were reduced by approximately 5 to 6 logs at a 5 muM concentration without apparent cytotoxicity. The 3'CSI PMO also inhibited mosquito-borne flaviviruses other than WN virus, and the antiviral potency correlated with the conservation of the targeted 3'CSI sequences of specific viruses. Mode-of-action analyses showed that the 5'End and 3'CSI PMOs suppressed viral infection through two distinct mechanisms. The 5'End PMO inhibited viral translation, whereas the 3'CSI PMO did not significantly affect viral translation but suppressed RNA replication. The results suggest that antisense PMO-mediated blocking of cis-acting elements of flavivirus genomes can potentially be developed into an anti-flavivirus therapy. In addition, we report that although a full-length WN virus containing a luciferase reporter (engineered at the 3' untranslated region of the genome) is not stable, an early passage of this reporting virus can be used to screen for inhibitors against any step of the virus life cycle.

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