Our previous study demonstrated that Melaleuca alternifolia (tea tree) oil (TTO) had an interesting antiviral activity against Influenza A in MDCK cells. In fact, when we tested TTO and some of its components, we found that TTO had an inhibitory effect on influenza virus replication at doses below the cytotoxic dose; terpinen-4-ol, terpinolene, and alfa-terpineol were the main active components. The aim of this study was to investigate the mechanism of action of TTO and its active components against Influenza A/PR/8 virus subtype H1N1 in MDCK cells. None of the test compounds showed virucidal activity nor any protective action for the MDCK cells. Thus, the effect of TTO and its active components on different steps of the replicative cycle of influenza virus was studied by adding the test compounds at various times after infection. These experiments revealed that viral replication was significantly inhibited if TTO was added within 2h of infection, indicating an interference with an early step of the viral replicative cycle of influenza virus. The influence of the compound on the virus adsorption step, studied by the infective center assay, indicated that TTO did not interfere with cellular attachment of the virus. TTO did not inhibit influenza virus neuraminidase activity, as shown by the experiment measuring the amount of 4-methylumbelliferone, cleaved by the influenza virus neuraminidase from the fluorogenic substrate 2'-O-(4-methylumbelliferyl)-N-acetylneuraminic acid. The effect of TTO on acidification of cellular lysosomes was studied by vital staining with acridine orange using bafilomycin A1 as positive control. The treatment of cells with 0.01% (v/v) of TTO at 37°C for 4h before staining inhibited the acridine orange accumulation in acid cytoplasmic vesicles, indicating that TTO could inhibit viral uncoating by an interference with acidification of intralysosomal compartment.
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