Lifecycle modelling systems support inosine monophosphate dehydrogenase (IMPDH) as a pro-viral factor and antiviral target for New World arenaviruses

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Infection with Junín virus (JUNV) is currently being effectively managed in the endemic region using a combination of targeted vaccination and plasma therapy. However, the long-term sustainability of plasma therapy is unclear and similar resources are not available for other New World arenaviruses. As a result, there has been renewed interest regarding the potential of drug-based therapies. To facilitate work on this issue, we present the establishment and subsequent optimization of a JUNV minigenome system to a degree suitable for high-throughput miniaturization, thereby providing a screening platform focused solely on factors affecting RNA synthesis. Using this tool, we conducted a limited drug library screen and identified AVN-944, a non-competitive inosine monophosphate dehydrogenase (IMPDH) inhibitor, as an inhibitor of arenavirus RNA synthesis. We further developed a transcription and replication competent virus-like particle (trVLP) system based on these minigenomes and used it to screen siRNAs against IMPDH, verifying its role in supporting arenavirus RNA synthesis. The antiviral effect of AVN-944, as well as siRNA inhibition, on JUNV RNA synthesis supports that, despite playing only a minor role in the activity of ribavirin, exclusive IMPDH inhibitors may indeed have significant therapeutic potential for use against New World arenaviruses. Finally, we confirmed that AVN-944 is also active against arenavirus infection in cell culture, supporting the suitability of arenavirus lifecycle modelling systems as tools for the screening and identification, as well as the mechanistic characterization, of novel antiviral compounds.Graphical abstractHighlightsArenavirus minigenome and trVLP assays provide suitable platforms for screening of antivirals and siRNAs.The availability of distinct life cycle modelling systems facilitates mechanism of action studies.The IMPDH-specific inhibitor AVN-944 blocks arenavirus RNA synthesis in a minigenome system.siRNA-directed knock-down of IMPDH blocks arenavirus infection in a trVLP system.AVN-944 treatment blocks arenavirus infection in vitro.

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