Protocatechuic acid inhibits hepatitis B virus replication by activating ERK1/2 pathway and down-regulating HNF4α and HNF1αin vitro

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Protocatechuic acid (PCA) is a phenolic compound found in many antiviral Chinese herbal medicines. HNF4α and HNF1α, the members of hepatocyte nuclear factor (HNF) family, play an important regulatory role in the gene transcription of hepatitis B virus (HBV). Previous studies found that PCA inhibited HBV antigen secretion and HBV DNA replication in HepG2.2.15 cells, but its anti-HBV mechanism has not been fully understood. We aim to illustrate the anti-HBV mechanism of PCA.

Materials and methods:

MTT was used to estimate cytotoxicity. The content of HBsAg or HBeAg was detected using an enzyme-linked immunosorbent assay kit. HBV DNA in cell-free culture media was detected by PCR kit. HNF1α and HNF4α mRNA expression was detected by real-time PCR. HNF1α, HNF4α and ERK1/2 protein expression was detected by western blotting and HBV promoter activity was tested by luciferase reporter assay.

Key findings:

Our results demonstrated that PCA inhibited the gene transcription and protein translation of HNF1α and HNF4α in Huh7 and HepG2.2.15 cells, as well as the promoter activities of HBV X and preS1 in Huh7 cells transfected with the luciferase reporter plasmid of HBV promoter. Further study suggested that PCA induced the phosphorylation of extracellular-signal-related kinase (ERK) 1/2, and thereby inhibited HNF4α and HNF1α expression in HepG2.2.15 cells to exert its antiviral activity.


To our knowledge, this study is the first to reveal the anti-HBV mechanism of PCA. Our results demonstrate that PCA inhibits HBV replication by activating ERK1/2 pathway and subsequently down-regulating HNF4α and HNF1α in HepG2.2.15 cells.

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