Quasispecies, error catastrophe, and the antiviral activity of ribavirin

Virology. 2002 Jul 5;298(2):175-80. doi: 10.1006/viro.2002.1487.


Ribavirin is the first synthetic, broad-spectrum antiviral nucleoside. Despite its more than 30 year history, the mechanism of action of this compound remains unclear and somewhat controversial. Recent data suggest the possibility that the activity of ribavirin against RNA viruses is a reflection of incorporation of ribavirin into the viral genome. Because ribavirin incorporation is not specific, this event leads to lethal mutagenesis of the virus population. The data supporting this new proposal for the mechanism of action of ribavirin are reviewed herein. In addition, we discuss briefly the challenges that remain for development of lethal mutagenesis as an effective antiviral strategy.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't
  • Research Support, U.S. Gov't, P.H.S.
  • Review

MeSH terms

  • Antiviral Agents / pharmacology*
  • Genome, Viral
  • Mutagenesis / drug effects
  • RNA Viruses / drug effects*
  • RNA Viruses / genetics
  • Ribavirin / chemistry
  • Ribavirin / pharmacology*


  • Antiviral Agents
  • Ribavirin