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. 2020 May;55(5):105938.
doi: 10.1016/j.ijantimicag.2020.105938. Epub 2020 Mar 12.

New Insights on the Antiviral Effects of Chloroquine Against Coronavirus: What to Expect for COVID-19?

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New Insights on the Antiviral Effects of Chloroquine Against Coronavirus: What to Expect for COVID-19?

Christian A Devaux et al. Int J Antimicrob Agents. .
Free PMC article


Recently, a novel coronavirus (2019-nCoV), officially known as severe acute respiratory syndrome coronavirus 2 (SARS-CoV-2), emerged in China. Despite drastic containment measures, the spread of this virus is ongoing. SARS-CoV-2 is the aetiological agent of coronavirus disease 2019 (COVID-19) characterised by pulmonary infection in humans. The efforts of international health authorities have since focused on rapid diagnosis and isolation of patients as well as the search for therapies able to counter the most severe effects of the disease. In the absence of a known efficient therapy and because of the situation of a public-health emergency, it made sense to investigate the possible effect of chloroquine/hydroxychloroquine against SARS-CoV-2 since this molecule was previously described as a potent inhibitor of most coronaviruses, including SARS-CoV-1. Preliminary trials of chloroquine repurposing in the treatment of COVID-19 in China have been encouraging, leading to several new trials. Here we discuss the possible mechanisms of chloroquine interference with the SARS-CoV-2 replication cycle.

Keywords: COVID-19; Chloroquine; Coronavirus; SARS-CoV-2.


Fig 1
Fig. 1
Schematic representation of the possible effects of chloroquine on the severe acute respiratory syndrome coronavirus 2 (SARS-CoV-2) replication cycle. SARS-CoV2, like other human coronaviruses, harbours three envelope proteins, the spike (S) protein (180–220 kDa), the membrane (M) protein (25–35 kDa) and the envelope (E) protein (10–12 kDa), which are required for entry of infectious virions into target cells. The virion also contains the nucleocapsid (N), capable of binding to viral genomic RNA, and nsp3, a key component of the replicase complex. A subset of betacoronaviruses use a hemagglutinin-esterase (65 kDa) that binds sialic acids at the surface of glycoproteins. The S glycoprotein determines the host tropism. There is indication that SARS-CoV-2 binds to angiotensin-converting enzyme 2 (ACE2) expressed on pneumocytes ,. Binding to ACE2 is expected to trigger conformational changes in the S glycoprotein allowing cleavage by the transmembrane protease TMPRSS2 of the S protein and the release of S fragments into the cellular supernatant that inhibit virus neutralisation by antibodies . The virus is then transported into the cell through the early and late endosomes where the host protease cathepsin L further cleaves the S protein at low pH, leading to fusion of the viral envelope and phospholipidic membrane of the endosomes resulting in release of the viral genome into the cell cytoplasm. Replication then starts and the positive-strand viral genomic RNA is transcribed into a negative RNA strand that is used as a template for the synthesis of viral mRNA. Synthesis of the negative RNA strand peaks earlier and falls faster than synthesis of the positive strand. Infected cells contain between 10 and 100 times more positive strands than negative strands. The ribosome machinery of the infected cells is diverted in favour of the virus, which then synthesises its non-structural proteins (NSPs) that assemble into the replicase-transcriptase complex to favour viral subgenomic mRNA synthesis (see the review by Fehr and Perlman for details [101]). Following replication, the envelope proteins are translated and inserted into the endoplasmic reticulum and then move to the Golgi compartment. Viral genomic RNA is packaged into the nucleocapsid and then envelope proteins are incorporated during the budding step to form mature virions. The M protein, which localises to the trans-Golgi network, plays an essential role during viral assembly by interacting with the other proteins of the virus. Following assembly, the newly formed viral particles are transported to the cell surface in vesicles and are released by exocytosis. It is possible that chloroquine interferes with ACE2 receptor glycosylation, thus preventing SARS-CoV-2 binding to target cells. Chloroquine could also possibly limit the biosynthesis of sialic acids that may be required for cell surface binding of SARS-CoV-2. If binding of some viral particles is achieved, chloroquine may modulate the acidification of endosomes thereby inhibiting formation of the autophagosome. Through reduction of cellular mitogen-activated protein (MAP) kinase activation, chloroquine may also inhibit virus replication. Moreover, chloroquine could alter M protein maturation and interfere with virion assembly and budding. With respect to the effect of chloroquine on the immune system, see the elegant review by Savarino et al. . ERGIC, ER-Golgi intermediate compartment.

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