Glycyrrhetic acid, but not glycyrrhizic acid, strengthened entecavir activity by promoting its subcellular distribution in the liverviaefflux inhibition

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Entecavir (ETV) is a superior nucleoside analogue used to treat hepatitis B virus (HBV) infection. Although its advantages over other agents include low viral resistance and the elicitation of a sharp decrease in HBV DNA, adverse effects such as hepatic steatosis, hepatic damage and lactic acidosis have also been reported. Glycyrrhizin has long been used as hepato-protective medicine. The clinical combination of ETV plus glycyrrhizin in China displays better therapeutic effects and lower rates of liver damage. However, there is little evidence explaining the probable synergistic mechanism that exists between these two drugs from a pharmacokinetics view. Here, alterations in the plasma pharmacokinetics, tissue distribution, subcellular distribution, and in vitro and in vivo antiviral activity of ETV after combination with glycyrrhizic acid (GL) were analysed to determine the synergistic mechanisms of these two drugs. Specific efflux transporter membrane vesicles were also used to elucidate their interactions. The primary active GL metabolite, glycyrrhetic acid (GA), did not affect the plasma pharmacokinetics of ETV but promoted its accumulation in hepatocytes, increasing its distribution in the cytoplasm and nucleus and augmenting the antiviral efficiency of ETV. These synergistic actions were primarily due to the inhibitory effect of GA on MRP4 and BCRP, which transport ETV out of hepatocytes. In conclusion, GA interacted with ETV at cellular and subcellular levels in the liver through MRP4 and BCRP inhibition, which enhanced the antiviral activity of ETV. Our results partially explain the synergistic mechanism of ETV and GL from a pharmacokinetics view, providing more data to support the use of these compounds together in clinical HBV treatment.Graphical abstract

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