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PLoS One. 2018 Jan 31;13(1):e0191793. doi: 10.1371/journal.pone.0191793. eCollection 2018.

Anti-influenza A virus activity of rhein through regulating oxidative stress, TLR4, Akt, MAPK, and NF-κB signal pathways.

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Department of Microbiology and Immunology, Shantou University Medical College, Shantou, Guangdong, China.
Department of Veterinary Medicine, University of Maryland, College Park, Maryland, United States of America.


Rhein, an anthraquinone compound existing in many traditional herbal medicines, has anti-inflammatory, antioxidant, antitumor, antiviral, hepatoprotective, and nephroprotective activities, but its anti-influenza A virus (IAV) activity is ambiguous. In the present study, through plaque inhibition assay, time-of-addition assay, antioxidant assay, qRT-PCR, ELISA, and western blotting assays, we investigated the anti-IAV effect and mechanism of action of rhein in vitro and in vivo. The results showed that rhein could significantly inhibit IAV adsorption and replication, decrease IAV-induced oxidative stress, activations of TLR4, Akt, p38, JNK MAPK, and NF-κB pathways, and production of inflammatory cytokines and matrix metalloproteinases in vitro. Oxidant H2O2 and agonists of TLR4, Akt, p38/JNK and IKK/NF-κB could significantly antagonize the inhibitory effects of rhein on IAV-induced cytopathic effect (CPE) and IAV replication. Through an in vivo test in mice, we also found that rhein could significantly improve the survival rate, lung index, pulmonary cytokines, and pulmonary histopathological changes. Rhein also significantly decreased pulmonary viral load at a high dose. In conclusion, rhein can inhibit IAV adsorption and replication, and the mechanism of action to inhibit IAV replication may be due to its ability to suppress IAV-induced oxidative stress and activations of TLR4, Akt, p38, JNK MAPK, and NF-κB signal pathways.

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