Redox-Modulating Agents in the Treatment of Viral Infections

Int J Mol Sci. 2020 Jun 8;21(11):4084. doi: 10.3390/ijms21114084.


Viruses use cell machinery to replicate their genome and produce viral proteins. For this reason, several intracellular factors, including the redox state, might directly or indirectly affect the progression and outcome of viral infection. In physiological conditions, the redox balance between oxidant and antioxidant species is maintained by enzymatic and non-enzymatic systems, and it finely regulates several cell functions. Different viruses break this equilibrium and induce an oxidative stress that in turn facilitates specific steps of the virus lifecycle and activates an inflammatory response. In this context, many studies highlighted the importance of redox-sensitive pathways as novel cell-based targets for therapies aimed at blocking both viral replication and virus-induced inflammation. In the review, we discuss the most recent findings in this field. In particular, we describe the effects of natural or synthetic redox-modulating molecules in inhibiting DNA or RNA virus replication as well as inflammatory pathways. The importance of the antioxidant transcription factor Nrf2 is also discussed. Most of the data reported here are on influenza virus infection. We believe that this approach could be usefully applied to fight other acute respiratory viral infections characterized by a strong inflammatory response, like COVID-19.

Keywords: COVID-19; Nrf2; antioxidants; influenza; redox state; reduced glutathione (GSH); viral infections.

Publication types

  • Review

MeSH terms

  • Animals
  • Antiviral Agents / therapeutic use*
  • COVID-19 Drug Treatment
  • Coronavirus Infections / drug therapy
  • Glutathione / metabolism
  • Humans
  • Inflammation / drug therapy
  • Influenza, Human / drug therapy
  • Oxidation-Reduction / drug effects*
  • Virus Diseases / drug therapy*
  • Virus Diseases / immunology
  • Virus Diseases / pathology
  • Virus Replication / drug effects


  • Antiviral Agents
  • Glutathione