Ribavirin: recent insights into antiviral mechanisms of action

Curr Opin Drug Discov Devel. 2001 Sep;4(5):651-6.


Ribavirin, a nucleoside analog, used in combination with interferon-alpha (IFN alpha) results in a substantial improvement in the sustained virologic response in chronic hepatitis C. Identified antiviral mechanisms of action for ribavirin include: (i) inhibition of viral encoded polymerases; (ii) inhibition of genomic RNA capping; and (iii) inhibition of cellular encoded enzymes that control de novo synthesis of purine nucleosides. More recently, ribavirin has been shown to engender a bias toward helper T-cell (CD4+) type 1 (Th1) cytokine responses in models of immunity. Recent detailed analysis has also shown that ribavirin can be utilized and incorporated by the polio viral polymerase into genomic and antigenomic transcripts, and is capable of base pairing with either UMP (uridine monophosphate) or CMP (cytidine monophosphate). This results in ribavirin-mediated mutagenesis of the viral genome and has the potential to push the virus beyond tolerable set points in its mutation rate, leading to an overall reduced fitness of the viral population. Of the many mechanisms of action demonstrated for ribavirin, the current clinical trials of selective inosine 5'-monophosphate dehydrogenase (IMPDH) inhibitors and immunomodulating agents in hepatitis may facilitate our understanding of what activity (if any) predominates when ribavirin is used in combination with IFN alpha.

Publication types

  • Review

MeSH terms

  • Adjuvants, Immunologic / pharmacology
  • Animals
  • Antiviral Agents / pharmacology*
  • Enzyme Inhibitors / pharmacology
  • Humans
  • IMP Dehydrogenase / antagonists & inhibitors
  • RNA, Viral / biosynthesis
  • RNA, Viral / drug effects
  • Ribavirin / pharmacology*
  • Viruses / drug effects*
  • Viruses / enzymology


  • Adjuvants, Immunologic
  • Antiviral Agents
  • Enzyme Inhibitors
  • RNA, Viral
  • Ribavirin
  • IMP Dehydrogenase