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J Virol. 2011 Feb;85(4):1554-62. doi: 10.1128/JVI.01294-10. Epub 2010 Dec 1.

Inhibition of influenza virus infection in human airway cell cultures by an antisense peptide-conjugated morpholino oligomer targeting the hemagglutinin-activating protease TMPRSS2.

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Institute of Virology, Philipps University Marburg, Hans-Meerwein-Strasse 2, 35043 Marburg, Germany.


Influenza A viruses constitute a major and ongoing global public health concern. Current antiviral strategies target viral gene products; however, the emergence of drug-resistant viruses highlights the need for novel antiviral approaches. Cleavage of the influenza virus hemagglutinin (HA) by host cell proteases is crucial for viral infectivity and therefore presents a potential drug target. Peptide-conjugated phosphorodiamidate morpholino oligomers (PPMO) are single-stranded-DNA-like antisense agents that readily enter cells and can act as antisense agents by sterically blocking cRNA. Here, we evaluated the effect of PPMO targeted to regions of the pre-mRNA or mRNA of the HA-cleaving protease TMPRSS2 on proteolytic activation and spread of influenza viruses in human Calu-3 airway epithelial cells. We found that treatment of cells with a PPMO (T-ex5) designed to interfere with TMPRSS2 pre-mRNA splicing resulted in TMPRSS2 mRNA lacking exon 5 and consequently the expression of a truncated and enzymatically inactive form of TMPRSS2. Altered splicing of TMPRSS2 mRNA by the T-ex5 PPMO prevented HA cleavage in different human seasonal and pandemic influenza A viruses and suppressed viral titers by 2 to 3 log(10) units, strongly suggesting that TMPRSS2 is responsible for HA cleavage in Calu-3 airway cells. The data indicate that PPMO provide a useful reagent for investigating HA-activating proteases and may represent a promising strategy for the development of novel therapeutics to address influenza infections.

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