Various human disorders are cured by the use of licorice, a key ingredient of herbal remedies. Glycyrrhizic acid (GL), a triterpenoid glycoside, is the aqueous extract from licorice root. Glycyrrhetinic acid (GA) has been reported to be a major bioactive hydrolysis product of GL and has been regarded as an anti-inflammatory agent for the treatment of a variety of inflammatory diseases, including hepatitis. However, the mechanism by which GA inhibits viral hepatic inflammatory injury is not completely understood. In this study, we found that, by consecutively treating mice with a traditional herbal recipe, licorice plays an important role in the detoxification of mice. We also employed a murine hepatitis virus (MHV) infection model to illustrate that GA treatment inhibited activation of hepatic inflammatory responses by blocking high-mobility group box 1 (HMGB1) cytokine activity. Furthermore, decreased HMGB1 levels and downstream signaling triggered by injection of a neutralizing HMGB1 antibody or TLR4 gene deficiency, also significantly protected against MHV-induced severe hepatic injury. Thus, our findings characterize GA as a hepatoprotective therapy agent in hepatic infectious disease not only by suppressing HMGB1 release and blocking HMGB1 cytokine activity, but also via an underlying viral-induced HMGB1-TLR4 immunological regulation axis that occurs during the cytokine storm. The present study provides a new therapy strategy for the treatment of acute viral hepatitis in the clinical setting.
Copyright © 2020. Published by Elsevier B.V.

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