The outbreak of SARS-CoV-2 developed into a global pandemic affecting millions of people worldwide. Despite one year of intensive research, the current treatment options for SARS-CoV-2 infected people are still limited. Clearly, novel antiviral compounds for the treatment of SARS-CoV-2 infected patients are still urgently needed. Complementary medicine is used along with standard medical treatment and accessible to a vast majority of people worldwide. Natural products with antiviral activity may contribute to improve the overall condition of SARS-CoV-2 infected individuals. In the present study, we investigated the antiviral activity of glycyrrhizin, the primary active ingredient of the licorice root, against SARS-CoV-2. We demonstrated that glycyrrhizin potently inhibits SARS-CoV-2 replication in vitro. Furthermore, we uncovered the underlying mechanism and showed that glycyrrhizin blocks the viral replication by inhibiting the viral main protease Mpro that is essential for viral replication. Our data indicate that the consumption of glycyrrhizin-containing products such as licorice root tea of black licorice may be of great benefit for SARS-CoV-2 infected people. Furthermore, glycyrrhizin is a good candidate for further investigation for clinical use to treat COVID-19 patients.
Keywords: SARS-CoV-2; glycyrrhizin; main protease.