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Gambogic acid inhibits HBx-mediated hepatitis B virus replication by targeting the DTX1-Notch signaling pathway.

Virus Research 2023 November 28
BACKGROUND & AIMS: Current antiviral drugs, including nucleoside analogs and interferon, fail to eliminate the HBV covalently closed circular DNA (cccDNA), which serves as a transcript template in infected hepatocytes. Silencing the HBV X protein, which plays a crucial role in cccDNA transcription, is a promising approach to inhibit HBV replication. Therefore, the identification of novel compounds that can inhibit HBx-mediated cccDNA transcription is critical.

METHODS: Initially, a compound library consisting of 715 monomers derived from traditional Chinese medicines known for their liver-protecting properties was established. Then, MTT assays were used to determine the cytotoxicity of each compound. The effect of candidates on Flag-HBx expression was examined by real-time PCR and western blotting in Flag-HBx transfected HepG2-NTCP cells. Ultimately, the antiviral effect of gambogic acid (GA) on HBV was observed in HBV-infected HepG2-NTCP cells. Mechanistically, the functional role of DTX1 in GA-induced HBV inhibition was investigated using RNA-seq. Finally, the antiviral effect of GA was estimated in vivo.

RESULTS: Gambogic acid (GA), a natural bioactive compound with a myriad of biological activities, markedly reduced Flag-HBx expression. Potent and dose-dependent reductions in extracellular HBV RNAs, HBV DNA, HBsAg, HBeAg and HBc protein were discovered three days after GA treatment in HBV-infected cells, accompanied by the absence of significant cytotoxicity. In a mouse model of hepatitis B virus recombinant cccDNA, intragastric administration of GA every other day showed vigorous efficacy in weakening serum HBV DNA and antigen levels. Furthermore, our research revealed that GA exhibited a dose-dependent inhibition of HBx expression, which is a pleiotropic protein required for HBV infection in vivo. We explored the mechanisms underlying GA-mediated inhibition of HBV and confirmed that this inhibition is accomplished by upregulating the expression of the DTX1 gene and boosting the Notch signaling pathway. Finally, the inhibitory effect of GA on HBV replication was tested in vivo using a mouse model of hepatitis B virus recombinant cccDNA.

CONCLUSIONS: Herein, we discovered GA, which is a natural bioactive compound that targets HBx to inhibit hepatitis B virus replication by activating the DTX1-Notch signaling pathway.

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