Rabies virus (RABV) is a highly neurotropic virus and the causative agent of rabies, an encephalitis with an almost 100% case-fatality rate that remains incurable after the onset of symptoms. Favipiravir (T-705), a broad-spectrum antiviral drug against RNA viruses, has been shown to be effective against RABV in vitro but ineffective in vivo. We hypothesized that favipiravir is effective in infected mice when RABV replicates in the peripheral tissues/nerves but not after virus neuroinvasion. We attempted to clarify this point in this study using in vivo bioluminescence imaging. We generated a recombinant RABV from the field isolate 1088, which expressed red firefly luciferase (1088/RFLuc). This allowed semiquantitative detection and monitoring of primary replication at the inoculation site and viral spread in the central nervous system (CNS) in the same mice. Bioluminescence imaging revealed that favipiravir (300 mg/kg/day) treatment commencing 1 h after intramuscular inoculation of RABV efficiently suppressed viral replication at the inoculation site and the subsequent replication in the CNS. However, virus replication in the CNS was not inhibited when the treatment began 2 days after inoculation. We also found that higher doses (600 or 900 mg/kg/day) of favipiravir could suppress viral replication in the CNS even when administration started 2 days after inoculation. These results support our hypothesis and suggest that a highly effective drug-delivery system into the CNS and/or the enhancement of favipiravir conversion to its active form are required to improve favipiravir treatment of rabies. Furthermore, the bioluminescence imaging system established in this study will facilitate the development of treatment for symptomatic rabies.
Keywords: Favipiravir; In vivo bioluminescence imaging; Rabies virus; Red firefly luciferase.
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