Send to

Choose Destination
J Virol. 2015 Nov 11;90(3):1259-77. doi: 10.1128/JVI.02651-15. Print 2016 Feb 1.

Trehalose, an mTOR-Independent Inducer of Autophagy, Inhibits Human Cytomegalovirus Infection in Multiple Cell Types.

Author information

Department of Cellular and Molecular Medicine and Skaggs School of Pharmacy and Pharmaceutical Sciences, University of California-San Diego, La Jolla, California, USA.
Department of Cellular and Molecular Medicine and Skaggs School of Pharmacy and Pharmaceutical Sciences, University of California-San Diego, La Jolla, California, USA


Human cytomegalovirus (HCMV) is the major viral cause of birth defects and a serious problem in immunocompromised individuals and has been associated with atherosclerosis. Previous studies have shown that the induction of autophagy can inhibit the replication of several different types of DNA and RNA viruses. The goal of the work presented here was to determine whether constitutive activation of autophagy would also block replication of HCMV. Most prior studies have used agents that induce autophagy via inhibition of the mTOR pathway. However, since HCMV infection alters the sensitivity of mTOR kinase-containing complexes to inhibitors, we sought an alternative method of inducing autophagy. We chose to use trehalose, a nontoxic naturally occurring disaccharide that is found in plants, insects, microorganisms, and invertebrates but not in mammals and that induces autophagy by an mTOR-independent mechanism. Given the many different cell targets of HCMV, we proceeded to determine whether trehalose would inhibit HCMV infection in human fibroblasts, aortic artery endothelial cells, and neural cells derived from human embryonic stem cells. We found that in all of these cell types, trehalose induces autophagy and inhibits HCMV gene expression and production of cell-free virus. Treatment of HCMV-infected neural cells with trehalose also inhibited production of cell-associated virus and partially blocked the reduction in neurite growth and cytomegaly. These results suggest that activation of autophagy by the natural sugar trehalose or other safe mTOR-independent agents might provide a novel therapeutic approach for treating HCMV disease.


HCMV infects multiple cell types in vivo, establishes lifelong persistence in the host, and can cause serious health problems for fetuses and immunocompromised individuals. HCMV, like all other persistent pathogens, has to finely tune its interplay with the host cellular machinery to replicate efficiently and evade detection by the immune system. In this study, we investigated whether modulation of autophagy, a host pathway necessary for the recycling of nutrients and removal of protein aggregates, misfolded proteins, and pathogens, could be used to target HCMV. We found that autophagy could be significantly increased by treatment with the nontoxic, natural disaccharide trehalose. Importantly, trehalose had a profound inhibitory effect on viral gene expression and strongly impaired viral spread. These data constitute a proof-of-concept for the use of natural products targeting host pathways rather than the virus itself, thus reducing the risk of the development of resistance to treatment.

[Indexed for MEDLINE]
Free PMC Article

Supplemental Content

Full text links

Icon for HighWire Icon for PubMed Central
Loading ...
Support Center