Plant or microbial lectins are known to exhibit potent antiviral activities against viruses with glycosylated surface proteins, yet the mechanism(s) by which these carbohydrate-binding proteins exert their antiviral activities is not fully understood. Hepatitis C virus (HCV) is known to possess glycosylated envelope proteins (gpE1E2) and to be potently inhibited by lectins. Here, we tested in detail the antiviral properties of the newly discovered Microcystis viridis lectin (MVL) along with cyanovirin-N (CV-N) and Galanthus nivalis agglutinin (GNA) against cell culture HCV, as well as their binding properties toward viral particles, target cells, and recombinant HCV glycoproteins. Using infectivity assays, CV-N, MVL, and GNA inhibited HCV with IC50 values of 0.6 nM, 30.4 nM, and 11.1 nM, respectively. Biolayer interferometry analysis demonstrated a higher affinity of GNA to immobilized recombinant HCV glycoproteins compared to CV-N and MVL. Complementary studies, including fluorescence-activated cell sorting (FACS) analysis, confocal microscopy, and pre- and post-virus binding assays, showed a complex mechanism of inhibition for CV-N and MVL that includes both viral and cell association, while GNA functions by binding directly to the viral particle. Combinations of GNA with CV-N or MVL in HCV infection studies revealed synergistic inhibitory effects, which can be explained by different glycan recognition profiles of the mainly high-mannoside specific lectins, and supports the hypothesis that these lectins inhibit through different and complex modes of action. Our findings provide important insights into the mechanisms by which lectins inhibit HCV infection. Overall, the data suggest MVL and CV-N have the potential for toxicity due to interactions with cellular proteins while GNA may be a better therapeutic agent due to specificity for the HCV gpE1E2.
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