Irina C. Albulescu, Kristina Kovacikova, Ali Tas, Eric J. Snijder, Martijn J. van Hemert
Zika virus (ZIKV) is a mosquito-borne flavivirus that mostly causes asymptomatic infections or mild disease characterized by low-grade fever, rash, conjunctivitis, and malaise. However, the recent massive ZIKV epidemics in the Americas have also linked ZIKV infection to fetal malformations like microcephaly and Guillain-Barré syndrome in adults, and have uncovered previously unrecognized routes of vertical and sexual transmission. Here we describe inhibition of ZIKV replication by suramin, originally an anti-parasitic drug, which was more recently shown to inhibit multiple viruses. In cell culture-based assays, using reduction of cytopathic effect as read-out, suramin had an EC50 of ~40μM and a selectivity index of 48. In single replication cycle experiments, suramin treatment also caused a strong dose-dependent decrease in intracellular ZIKV RNA levels and a >3-log reduction in infectious progeny titers. Time-of-addition experiments revealed that suramin inhibits a very early step of the replication cycle as well as the release of infectious progeny. Only during the first two hours of infection suramin treatment strongly reduced the fraction of cells that became infected with ZIKV, suggesting the drug affects virus binding/entry. Binding experiments at 4°C using 35S-labeled ZIKV demonstrated that suramin interferes with attachment to host cells. When suramin treatment was initiated post-entry, viral RNA synthesis was unaffected, while both the release of genomes and the infectivity of ZIKV were reduced. This suggests the compound also affects virion biogenesis, possibly by interfering with glycosylation and the maturation of ZIKV during its traffic through the secretory pathway. The inhibitory effect of suramin on ZIKV attachment and virion biogenesis and its broadspectrum activity warrant further evaluation of this compound as a potential therapeutic.