The effect of the triterpenoid drugs carbenoxolone sodium (CBX) and cicloxolone sodium (CCX) on DNA and protein synthesis in uninfected and herpes simplex virus (HSV)-infected BHK-21 or Flow 2002 cells has been studied. No consistent effect of 500 µ-CBX or 300 µ-CCX on HSV DNA synthesis was identified. With 300 µ-CCX, some inhibition of cellular DNA synthesis was observed, but this was relatively slight. The restriction enzyme digest profiles of HSV DNA from drug-treated cells appeared normal. The synthesis of several HSV-specified polypeptides was much reduced by treatment with CBX or CCX and the transport of certain proteins between the nuclear and cytoplasmic compartments of infected cells was also affected. CBX or CCX treatment strongly inhibited post-translational glycosylation and sulphation of both host- and HSV-specified proteins, but the phosphorylation of only a few proteins appeared affected. The drugs induced quantitative changes in the synthesis of some BHK cell polypeptides, but these were not considered important. CCX treatment of Flow 2002 cells, however, induced the synthesis of several new polypeptides, some of which had the same apparent molecular weights as identified Flow 2002 cell stress proteins. When treated with concentrations greater than 50 µ-CCX, the plasma membranes of both uninfected and HSV-infected cells became increasingly leaky. The SDS-PAGE polypeptide profile of purified virus particles made in BHK cells treated with 300 µ-CCX differed markedly from that synthesized under drug-free conditions. The greatly reduced amount of infectious virus made in cells treated with 300 µ-CCX was more thermolabile at 42 °C than virus produced in the absence of the drug. Our results indicate that the antiviral activity of the triterpenoid drugs is non-specific and operates by interfering with or changing the normal function of cell membranes so that cells, although retaining their viability, can no longer assemble the virus components efficiently into infectious particles. As a consequence, the population of virus particles made is of inferior quality. While we have no evidence that there is also a specific anti-HSV effect, this possibility cannot yet be ruled out.

Keyword(s): antiviral , HSV and triterpenoids

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