Ethnopharmacological relevance: Artemisia annua L. has been used for millennia in Southeast Asia to treat "fever". Many infectious microbial and viral diseases have been shown to respond to A. annua and communities around the world use the plant as a medicinal tea, especially for treating malaria.
Aim of the study: SARS-CoV-2 (the cause of Covid-19) globally has infected and killed millions of people. Because of the broad-spectrum antiviral activity of artemisinin that includes blockade of SARS-CoV-1, we queried whether A. annua suppressed SARS-CoV-2.
Materials and methods: Using Vero E6 and Calu-3 cells, we measured anti SARS-CoV-2 activity against fully infectious virus of dried leaf extracts of seven cultivars of A. annua sourced from four continents. IC50s were calculated and defined as the concentrations that inhibited viral replication by 50%; CC50s were also calculated and defined as the concentrations that kill 50% of cells.
Results: Hot-water leaf extracts based on artemisinin, total flavonoids, or dry leaf mass showed antiviral activity with IC50 values of 0.1-8.7 μM, 0.01-0.14 μg, and 23.4-57.4 μg, respectively. Antiviral efficacy did not correlate with artemisinin or total flavonoid contents of the extracts. One dried leaf sample was >12 years old, yet its hot-water extract was still found to be active. The UK and South African variants, B1.1.7 and B1.351, were similarly inhibited. While all hot water extracts were effective, concentrations of artemisinin and total flavonoids varied by nearly 100-fold in the extracts. Artemisinin alone showed an estimated IC50 of about 70 μM, and the clinically used artemisinin derivatives artesunate, artemether, and dihydroartemisinin were ineffective or cytotoxic at elevated micromolar concentrations. In contrast, the antimalarial drug amodiaquine had an IC50 = 5.8 μM. Extracts had minimal effects on infection of Vero E6 or Calu-3 cells by a reporter virus pseudotyped by the SARS-CoV-2 spike protein. There was no cytotoxicity within an order of magnitude above the antiviral IC90 values.
Conclusions: A. annua extracts inhibit SARS-CoV-2 infection, and the active component(s) in the extracts is likely something besides artemisinin or a combination of components that block virus infection at a step downstream of virus entry. Further studies will determine in vivo efficacy to assess whether A. annua might provide a cost-effective therapeutic to treat SARS-CoV-2 infections.
Keywords: Amodiaquine; Artemether; Artemisia annua; Artemisinin; Artesunate; Covid-19; Deoxyartemisinin; Dihydroartemisinin; SARS-CoV-2.
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