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Antiviral Res. 2011 Jan;89(1):54-63. doi: 10.1016/j.antiviral.2010.11.004. Epub 2010 Nov 12.

Measuring antiviral activity of benzimidazole molecules that alter IRES RNA structure with an infectious hepatitis C virus chimera expressing Renilla luciferase.

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Department of Medicine, University of Utah School of Medicine, 30 N 1900 E, Salt Lake City, UT 84132, USA.


Major progress has been made in developing infectious HCV cell culture systems and these systems have been useful in identifying novel HCV antivirals. However, more rapid and sensitive assays using infectious cell based HCV systems would facilitate the development of additional antivirals, including small molecules directed at unique targets such as the HCV RNA internal ribosomal entry site (IRES). We have found that the V3 region (28 aa) of NS5A of HCV JFH1 can be deleted from the genome with only modest effects on the titer of infectious virus produced in cell culture. Moreover, the V3 region can be replaced with the Renilla reniformis luciferase (Rluc) gene resulting in an infectious virus that stably expresses an NS5A-Rluc fusion protein. Infected cells cultured in 96-well plates provided a robust luciferase signal that accurately reflected the production of infectious virus. This infectious HCV reporter system was used to test the activity of three benzimidazole compounds that bind the HCV RNA IRES. Compounds in this chemical class of small molecules bind and alter the IRES RNA structure at low to sub-micromolar concentrations and interfere with viral replication. The current study shows that these compounds inhibit HCV replication in an infectious HCV cell culture system, defines their IC(50) in this system, and provides a platform for the rapid testing of next generation inhibitors.

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