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Studies of the mechanisms of action of the antiretroviral agents hypericin and pseudohypericin.


Lavie G, Valentine F, Levin B, Mazur Y




Proc Natl Acad Sci U S A


Administration of the aromatic polycyclic dione compounds hypericin or pseudohypericin to experimental animals provides protection from disease induced by retroviruses that give rise to acute, as well as slowly progressive, diseases. For example, survival from Friend virus- induced leukemia is significantly prolonged by both compounds, with hypericin showing the greater potency. Viremia induced by LP-BM5 murine immunodeficiency virus is markedly suppressed after infrequent dosage of either substance. These compounds affect the retroviral infection and replication cycle at least at two different points: (i) Assembly or processing of intact virions from infected cells was shown to be affected by hypericin. Electron microscopy of hypericin- treated, virus-producing cells revealed the production of particles containing immature or abnormally assembled cores, suggesting the compounds may interfere with processing of gag-encoded precursor polyproteins. The released virions contain no detectable activity of reverse transcriptase. (ii) Hypericin and pseudohypericin also directly inactivate mature and properly assembled retroviruses as determined by assays for reverse transcriptase and infectivity. Accumulating data from our laboratories suggest that these compounds inhibit retroviruses by unconventional mechanisms and that the potential therapeutic value of hypericin and pseudohypericin should be explored in diseases such as AIDS.

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