Inhibition of influenza A virus infection by ginsenosides

PLoS One. 2017 Feb 10;12(2):e0171936. doi: 10.1371/journal.pone.0171936. eCollection 2017.


Influenza viruses cause mild to severe respiratory infections in humans. Due to efficient means of transmission, the viruses infect human population on a large scale. Apart from vaccines, antiviral drugs are used to control infection; neuraminidase inhibitors are thought to be the first choice of treatment, particularly for severe cases. Rapidly evolving and emerging influenza viruses with increased frequency of viral resistance to these drugs stress the need to explore novel antiviral compounds. In this study, we investigated antiviral activity of ginseng extract and ginsenosides, the ginseng-derived triterpene and saponin compounds, against 2009 pandemic H1N1 virus in vitro and in vivo. Our data showed that treatment of mice with ginsenosides protected the animals from lethal 2009 pandemic H1N1 infection and lowered viral titers in animal lungs. Mechanistic studies revealed that ginsenosides interact with viral hemagglutinin protein and prevent the attachment of virus with α 2-3' sialic acid receptors present on host cell surfaces. The interference in the viral attachment process subsequently minimizes viral entry into the cells and decreases the severity of the viral infection. We also describe that sugar moieties present in ginsenosides are indispensible for their attachment with viral HA protein. On the basis of our observations, we can say that ginsenosides are promising candidates for the development of antiviral drugs for influenza viruses.

MeSH terms

  • Animals
  • Antiviral Agents / pharmacology
  • Antiviral Agents / therapeutic use*
  • CHO Cells
  • Cricetinae
  • Cricetulus
  • Dogs
  • Female
  • Ginsenosides / pharmacology
  • Ginsenosides / therapeutic use*
  • Hemagglutinin Glycoproteins, Influenza Virus / metabolism
  • Influenza A virus / pathogenicity
  • Madin Darby Canine Kidney Cells
  • Mice
  • Mice, Inbred BALB C
  • Orthomyxoviridae Infections / drug therapy*
  • Protein Binding


  • Antiviral Agents
  • Ginsenosides
  • Hemagglutinin Glycoproteins, Influenza Virus

Grant support

This work was financially supported by the Li Ka Shing Foundation. The funders had no role in study design, data collection and analysis, decision to publish, or preparation of the manuscript.