Dengue virus (DENV) infection is a public health problem in tropical and subtropical regions. It can cause a spectrum of clinical manifestations ranging from mild dengue fever (DF) to severe dengue haemorrhagic fever (DHF) and potentially life-threatening disease including dengue shock syndrome (DSS). Severe DENV infection is caused by high viral load and cytokine storm in dengue-infected patients. Currently, there is no specific antiviral drug for DENV infection. An anti-DENV agent that demonstrates inhibitory effects on both DENV replication and cytokine secretion is urgently needed. In this study, cepharanthine (CEP), which is an anti-inflammatory, anti-HIV, and anti-tumour compound isolated from Stephania cepharantha Hayata, was tested for inhibition of DENV infection. We investigated the efficacy of CEP to inhibit DENV infection, replication, and cytokine production. The inhibitory effect of CEP treatment was studied in DENV-infected human chronic myeloid leukemia (K562) cells. The levels of DENV E protein and DENV production were determined by flow cytometry and FFU assay, respectively. CEP treatment significantly reduced viral E protein and viral production in all DENV-1, 2, 3, 4 serotypes. In addition, CEP treatment reduced the IL-6 proinflammatory cytokine production in DENV-infected A549 cells. Taken together, CEP has inhibitory effects on DENV infection specifically at the initial viral replication states and proinflammatory cytokine secretion, and is a promising candidate for further development as an anti-DENV treatment.
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