Antiviral activity of peptide inhibitors derived from the protein E stem against Japanese encephalitis and Zika viruses

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Japanese encephalitis virus (JEV) and Zika virus (ZIKV) are mosquito-borne viruses of the Flavivirus genus that cause viral encephalitis and congenital microcephaly, respectively, in humans, and thus present a risk to global public health. The envelope glycoprotein (E protein) of flaviviruses is a class II viral fusion protein that mediates host cell entry through a series of conformational changes, including association between the stem region and domain II leading to virion-target cell membrane fusion. In this study, peptides derived from the JEV E protein stem were investigated for their ability to block JEV and ZIKV infection. Peptides from stem helix 2 inhibit JEV infection with the 50% inhibitory concentration (IC50) in the nanomolar range. One of these peptides (P5) protected mice against JEV-induced lethality by decreasing viral load, while abrogating histopathological changes associated with JEV infection. We also found that P5 blocked ZIKV infection with IC50 at the micromolar level. Moreover, P5 was proved to reduce the histopathological damages in brain and testes resulting from ZIKV infection in type I and II interferon receptor-deficient (AG6) mice. These findings provide a basis for the development of peptide-based drugs against JEV and ZIKV.

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