Broad-spectrum antiviral activity of the eIF4A inhibitor silvestrol against corona- and picornaviruses

Antiviral Res. 2018 Feb;150:123-129. doi: 10.1016/j.antiviral.2017.12.010. Epub 2017 Dec 16.


Coronaviruses (CoV) and picornaviruses are plus-strand RNA viruses that use 5' cap-dependent and cap-independent strategies, respectively, for viral mRNA translation initiation. Here, we analyzed the effects of the plant compound silvestrol, a specific inhibitor of the DEAD-box RNA helicase eIF4A, on viral translation using a dual luciferase assay and virus-infected primary cells. Silvestrol was recently shown to have potent antiviral activity in Ebola virus-infected human macrophages. We found that silvestrol is also a potent inhibitor of cap-dependent viral mRNA translation in CoV-infected human embryonic lung fibroblast (MRC-5) cells. EC50 values of 1.3 nM and 3 nM silvestrol were determined for MERS-CoV and HCoV-229E, respectively. For the highly pathogenic MERS-CoV, the potent antiviral activities of silvestrol were also confirmed using peripheral blood mononuclear cells (PBMCs) as a second type of human primary cells. Silvestrol strongly inhibits the expression of CoV structural and nonstructural proteins (N, nsp8) and the formation of viral replication/transcription complexes. Furthermore, potential antiviral effects against human rhinovirus (HRV) A1 and poliovirus type 1 (PV), representing different species in the genus Enterovirus (family Picornaviridae), were investigated. The two viruses employ an internal ribosomal entry site (IRES)-mediated translation initiation mechanism. For PV, which is known to require the activity of eIF4A, an EC50 value of 20 nM silvestrol was determined in MRC-5 cells. The higher EC50 value of 100 nM measured for HRV A1 indicates a less critical role of eIF4A activity in HRV A1 IRES-mediated translation initiation. Taken together, the data reveal a broad-spectrum antiviral activity of silvestrol in infected primary cells by inhibiting eIF4A-dependent viral mRNA translation.

Keywords: Cap-dependent translation; Coronavirus; IRES; Picornavirus; Silvestrol; eIF4A.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Animals
  • Antiviral Agents / pharmacology*
  • Cell Line
  • Chlorocebus aethiops
  • DNA-Binding Proteins / antagonists & inhibitors*
  • Dose-Response Relationship, Drug
  • Gene Expression
  • Gene Expression Regulation, Viral / drug effects
  • Genes, Reporter
  • Humans
  • Picornaviridae / drug effects*
  • Transcription Factors / antagonists & inhibitors*
  • Triterpenes / pharmacology*
  • Vero Cells


  • Antiviral Agents
  • DNA-Binding Proteins
  • ELF4 protein, human
  • Transcription Factors
  • Triterpenes
  • silvestrol