Identification of KX2-391 as an inhibitor of HBV transcription by a recombinant HBV-based screening assay

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Antiviral therapies for chronic hepatitis B virus (HBV) infection that are currently applicable for clinical use are limited to nucleos(t)ide analogs targeting HBV polymerase activity and pegylated interferon alpha (PEG-IFN). Towards establishing an effective therapy for HBV related diseases, it is important to develop a new anti-HBV agent that suppresses and eradicates HBV. This study used recombinant HBV encoding NanoLuc to screen anti-HBV compounds from 1827 US Food and Drug Administration approved compounds and identified several compounds that suppressed HBV infection. Among them, KX2-391, a non-ATP-competitive inhibitor of SRC kinase and tubulin polymerization, was identified as a lead candidate for an anti-HBV drug. Treatment of sodium taurocholate cotransporting polypeptide (NTCP) transduced-HepG2 (HepG2-NTCP) or primary human hepatocytes with KX2-391 suppressed HBV replication in a dose-dependent manner. The anti-HBV activity of KX2-391 appeared not to depend on SRC kinase activity because siRNA for SRC mRNA did not impair the HBV infection/replication. The anti-HBV activity of KX2-391 depended on the inhibitory effect of tubulin polymerization similar to other tubulin polymerization inhibitors, some of which were shown to inhibit HBV replication. KX2-391 inhibited HBV transcription driven by a HBV precore promoter in an HBV X protein-independent manner but did not inhibit the activity of HBV-S1, -S2, -X or cytomegalovirus promoters. Treatment with KX2-391 reduced the expression of several various factors including hepatocyte nuclear factor-4a.

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