Inhibitory effects of some derivatives of glycyrrhizic acid against Epstein-Barr virus infection: structure-activity relationships

Antiviral Res. 2008 Jul;79(1):6-11. doi: 10.1016/j.antiviral.2008.01.160. Epub 2008 Mar 31.


Glycyrrhizic acid (18beta-GL or GL) is a herbal drug with a broad spectrum of antiviral activities and pharmacological effects and multiple sites of action. Previously we showed that GL inhibits Epstein-Barr virus (EBV) infection in vitro by interfering with an early step of the EBV replication cycle (possibly attachment/penetration). Here we tested the effects of 15 GL derivatives against EBV infection by scoring the numbers of cell expressing viral antigens and quantifying EBV DNA copy numbers in superinfected Raji cells. The derivatives were made either by transformation of GL on carboxyl and hydroxyl groups or by conjugation of amino acid residues into the carbohydrate part. We identified seven compounds active against EBV and all showed dose-dependent inhibition as determined by both assays. Among these active compounds, the introduction of amino acid residues into the GL carbohydrate part enhanced the antiviral activity in three of the seven active compounds. However, when Glu(OH)-OMe was substituted by Glu(OMe)-OMe, its antiviral activity was completely abolished. Introduction of potassium or ammonium salt to GL reduced the antiviral activity with no significant effect on cytotoxicity. The alpha-isomer (18alpha-GL) of 18beta-GL was as potent as the beta-form, but its sodium salt lost antiviral activity. The metabolic product of GL, 18beta-glycyrrhetinic acid (18beta-GA or GA), was 7.5-fold more active against EBV than its parental compound GL but, concomitantly, exhibited increased cytotoxicity resulting in a decreased therapeutic index.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Antigens, Viral / drug effects
  • Antigens, Viral / metabolism
  • Antiviral Agents / chemical synthesis
  • Antiviral Agents / pharmacology*
  • Cell Line, Tumor
  • Cell Proliferation / drug effects
  • Dose-Response Relationship, Drug
  • Epstein-Barr Virus Infections / drug therapy*
  • Epstein-Barr Virus Infections / virology
  • Gene Dosage / drug effects
  • Genome, Viral / drug effects
  • Glycyrrhizic Acid / analogs & derivatives*
  • Glycyrrhizic Acid / chemical synthesis
  • Glycyrrhizic Acid / pharmacology*
  • Herpesvirus 4, Human / drug effects*
  • Herpesvirus 4, Human / genetics
  • Herpesvirus 4, Human / immunology
  • Herpesvirus 4, Human / physiology
  • Humans
  • Structure-Activity Relationship
  • Virus Replication / drug effects


  • Antigens, Viral
  • Antiviral Agents
  • Glycyrrhizic Acid