Hepatitis C virus (HCV) is a global health concern infecting 170 million people worldwide. Previous studies indicate that the extract from milk thistle known as silymarin and its main component silibinin inhibit HCV infection. Here we investigated the mechanism of anti-HCV action of silymarin-derived compounds at the molecular level. By using live-cell confocal imaging, single particle tracking, transmission electron microscopy and biochemical approaches on HCV-infected human hepatoma cells and primary hepatocytes, we show that silibinin potently inhibits HCV infection and hinders HCV entry by slowing down trafficking through clathrin-coated pits and vesicles. Detailed analyses revealed that silibinin altered the formation of both clathrin-coated pits and vesicles in cells and caused abnormal uptake and trafficking of transferrin, a well-known cargo of the clathrin endocytic pathway. Silibinin also inhibited infection by other viruses that enter cells by clathrin-mediated endocytosis including reovirus, vesicular stomatitis and influenza viruses. Our study demonstrates that silibinin inhibits HCV early steps of infection by affecting endosomal trafficking of virions. It provides new insights into the molecular mechanisms of action of silibinin against HCV entry and also suggests that silibinin is a potential broad-spectrum antiviral therapy.
© 2013 John Wiley & Sons Ltd.