Arbidol and Other Low-Molecular-Weight Drugs That Inhibit Lassa and Ebola Viruses

J Virol. 2019 Apr 3;93(8):e02185-18. doi: 10.1128/JVI.02185-18. Print 2019 Apr 15.


Antiviral therapies that impede virus entry are attractive because they act on the first phase of the infectious cycle. Drugs that target pathways common to multiple viruses are particularly desirable when laboratory-based viral identification may be challenging, e.g., in an outbreak setting. We are interested in identifying drugs that block both Ebola virus (EBOV) and Lassa virus (LASV), two unrelated but highly pathogenic hemorrhagic fever viruses that have caused outbreaks in similar regions in Africa and share features of virus entry: use of cell surface attachment factors, macropinocytosis, endosomal receptors, and low pH to trigger fusion in late endosomes. Toward this goal, we directly compared the potency of eight drugs known to block EBOV entry with their potency as inhibitors of LASV entry. Five drugs (amodiaquine, apilimod, arbidol, niclosamide, and zoniporide) showed roughly equivalent degrees of inhibition of LASV and EBOV glycoprotein (GP)-bearing pseudoviruses; three (clomiphene, sertraline, and toremifene) were more potent against EBOV. We then focused on arbidol, which is licensed abroad as an anti-influenza drug and exhibits activity against a diverse array of clinically relevant viruses. We found that arbidol inhibits infection by authentic LASV, inhibits LASV GP-mediated cell-cell fusion and virus-cell fusion, and, reminiscent of its activity on influenza virus hemagglutinin, stabilizes LASV GP to low-pH exposure. Our findings suggest that arbidol inhibits LASV fusion, which may partly involve blocking conformational changes in LASV GP. We discuss our findings in terms of the potential to develop a drug cocktail that could inhibit both LASV and EBOV.IMPORTANCE Lassa and Ebola viruses continue to cause severe outbreaks in humans, yet there are only limited therapeutic options to treat the deadly hemorrhagic fever diseases they cause. Because of overlapping geographic occurrences and similarities in mode of entry into cells, we seek a practical drug or drug cocktail that could be used to treat infections by both viruses. Toward this goal, we directly compared eight drugs, approved or in clinical testing, for the ability to block entry mediated by the glycoproteins of both viruses. We identified five drugs with approximately equal potencies against both. Among these, we investigated the modes of action of arbidol, a drug licensed abroad to treat influenza infections. We found, as shown for influenza virus, that arbidol blocks fusion mediated by the Lassa virus glycoprotein. Our findings encourage the development of a combination of approved drugs to treat both Lassa and Ebola virus diseases.

Keywords: Lassa fever virus; drug repurposing; ebolavirus; entry inhibitor; hemorrhagic fever viruses; practical drug therapy.

Publication types

  • Comparative Study
  • Research Support, N.I.H., Extramural

MeSH terms

  • Animals
  • Antiviral Agents / pharmacology*
  • COS Cells
  • Chlorocebus aethiops
  • Cricetinae
  • Drug Evaluation, Preclinical
  • Ebolavirus / metabolism*
  • HEK293 Cells
  • Hemorrhagic Fever, Ebola / drug therapy*
  • Hemorrhagic Fever, Ebola / metabolism
  • Hemorrhagic Fever, Ebola / pathology
  • Humans
  • Indoles / pharmacology*
  • Lassa Fever / drug therapy*
  • Lassa Fever / metabolism
  • Lassa Fever / pathology
  • Lassa virus / metabolism*
  • Vero Cells
  • Virus Internalization / drug effects


  • Antiviral Agents
  • Indoles
  • umifenovir