Identification of hydrolyzable tannins (punicalagin, punicalin and geraniin) as novel inhibitors of hepatitis B virus covalently closed circular DNA

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The development of new agents to target HBV cccDNA is urgently needed because of the limitations of current available drugs for treatment of hepatitis B. By using a cell-based assay in which the production of HBeAg is in a cccDNA-dependent manner, we screened a compound library derived from Chinese herbal remedies for inhibitors against HBV cccDNA. Three hydrolyzable tannins, specifically punicalagin, punicalin and geraniin, emerged as novel anti-HBV agents. These compounds significantly reduced the production of secreted HBeAg and cccDNA in a dose-dependent manner in our assay, without dramatic alteration of viral DNA replication. Furthermore, punicalagin did not affect precore/core promoter activity, pgRNA transcription, core protein expression, or HBsAg secretion. By employing the cell-based cccDNA accumulation and stability assay, we found that these tannins significantly inhibited the establishment of cccDNA and modestly facilitated the degradation of preexisting cccDNA. Collectively, our results suggest that hydrolyzable tannins inhibit HBV cccDNA production via a dual mechanism through preventing the formation of cccDNA and promoting cccDNA decay, although the latter effect is rather minor. These hydrolyzable tannins may serve as lead compounds for the development of new agents to cure HBV infection.

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