Viruses are solely dependent on host cells to propagate; therefore, understanding virus-host interaction is important for antiviral drug development. Since de novo nucleotide biosynthesis is essentially required for both host cell metabolism and viral replication, specific catalytic enzymes of these pathways have been explored as potential antiviral targets. In this study, we investigated the role of different enzymatic cascades of nucleotide biosynthesis in hepatitis E virus (HEV) replication. By profiling various pharmacological inhibitors of nucleotide biosynthesis, we found that targeting the early steps of the purine biosynthesis pathway led to the enhancement of HEV replication, whereas targeting the later step resulted in potent antiviral activity via the depletion of purine nucleotide. Furthermore, the inhibition of the pyrimidine pathway resulted in potent anti-HEV activity. Interestingly, all of these inhibitors with anti-HEV activity concurrently triggered the induction of antiviral interferon-stimulated genes (ISGs). Although ISGs are commonly induced by interferons via the JAK-STAT pathway, their induction by nucleotide synthesis inhibitors is completely independent of this classical mechanism. In conclusion, this study revealed an unconventional novel mechanism of cross talk between nucleotide biosynthesis pathways and cellular antiviral immunity in constraining HEV infection. Targeting particular enzymes in nucleotide biosynthesis represents a viable option for antiviral drug development against HEV. HEV is the most common cause of acute viral hepatitis worldwide and is also associated with chronic hepatitis, especially in immunocompromised patients. Although often an acute and self-limiting infection in the general population, HEV can cause severe morbidity and mortality in certain patients, a problem compounded by the lack of FDA-approved anti-HEV medication available. In this study, we have investigated the role of the nucleotide synthesis pathway in HEV infection and its potential for antiviral drug development. We show that targeting the later but not the early steps of the purine synthesis pathway exerts strong anti-HEV activity. In particular, IMP dehydrogenase (IMPDH) is the most important anti-HEV target of this cascade. Importantly, the clinically used IMPDH inhibitors, including mycophenolic acid and ribavirin, have potent anti-HEV activity. Furthermore, targeting the pyrimidine synthesis pathway also exerts potent antiviral activity against HEV. Interestingly, antiviral effects of nucleotide synthesis pathway inhibitors appear to depend on the medication-induced transcription of antiviral interferon-stimulated genes. Thus, this study reveals an unconventional novel mechanism as to how nucleotide synthesis pathway inhibitors can counteract HEV replication.
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