Chloroquine and hydroxychloroquine as ACE2 blockers to inhibit viropexis of 2019-nCoV Spike pseudotyped virus

Phytomedicine. 2020 Dec;79:153333. doi: 10.1016/j.phymed.2020.153333. Epub 2020 Sep 2.


Background: The novel coronavirus disease (2019-nCoV) has been affecting global health since the end of 2019 and there is no sign that the epidemic is abating . The major issue for controlling the infectious is lacking efficient prevention and therapeutic approaches. Chloroquine (CQ) and Hydroxychloroquine (HCQ) have been reported to treat the disease, but the underlying mechanism remains controversial.

Purpose: The objective of this study is to investigate whether CQ and HCQ could be ACE2 blockers and used to inhibit 2019-nCoV virus infection.

Methods: In our study, we used CCK-8 staining, flow cytometry and immunofluorescent staining to evaluate the toxicity and autophagy of CQ and HCQ, respectively, on ACE2 high-expressing HEK293T cells (ACE2h cells). We further analyzed the binding character of CQ and HCQ to ACE2 by molecular docking and surface plasmon resonance (SPR) assays, 2019-nCoV spike pseudotyped virus was also used to observe the viropexis effect of CQ and HCQ in ACE2h cells.

Results: Results showed that HCQ is slightly more toxic to ACE2h cells than CQ. Both CQ and HCQ could bind to ACE2 with KD = (7.31 ± 0.62)e-7 M and (4.82 ± 0.87)e-7 M, respectively. They exhibit equivalent suppression effect for the entrance of 2019-nCoV spike pseudotyped virus into ACE2h cells.

Conclusions: CQ and HCQ both inhibit the entrance 2019-nCoV into cells by blocking the binding of the virus with ACE2. Our findings provide novel insights into the molecular mechanism of CQ and HCQ treatment effect on virus infection.

Keywords: 2019-nCoV; ACE2; Chloroquine; Hydroxychloroquine.

MeSH terms

  • Angiotensin-Converting Enzyme 2
  • Angiotensin-Converting Enzyme Inhibitors / pharmacology*
  • Autophagy / drug effects
  • Betacoronavirus / drug effects*
  • Betacoronavirus / physiology
  • COVID-19
  • COVID-19 Drug Treatment
  • Chloroquine / pharmacology*
  • Coronavirus Infections / drug therapy
  • HEK293 Cells
  • Humans
  • Hydroxychloroquine / pharmacology*
  • Molecular Docking Simulation
  • Pandemics
  • Peptidyl-Dipeptidase A / drug effects*
  • Peptidyl-Dipeptidase A / metabolism
  • Pneumonia, Viral
  • SARS-CoV-2


  • Angiotensin-Converting Enzyme Inhibitors
  • Hydroxychloroquine
  • Chloroquine
  • Peptidyl-Dipeptidase A
  • ACE2 protein, human
  • Angiotensin-Converting Enzyme 2