Suppression of hepatitis C virus replication by protein kinase C-related kinase 2 inhibitors that block phosphorylation of viral RNA polymerase

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Summary.Hepatitis C virus (HCV) infection is a serious threat to human health worldwide. In spite of the continued search for specific and effective anti-HCV therapies, the rapid emergence of drug-resistance variants has been hampering the development of anti-HCV drugs designed to target viral enzymes. Targeting host factors has therefore emerged as an alternative strategy offering the potential to circumvent the ever-present complication of drug resistance. We previously identified protein kinase C-related kinase 2 (PRK2) as a cellular kinase that phosphorylates the HCV RNA-dependent RNA polymerase (RdRp). Here, we report the anti-HCV activity of HA1077, also known as fasudil, and Y27632, which blocks HCV RdRp phosphorylation by suppressing PRK2 activation. Treatment of a Huh7 cell line, stably expressing a genotype 1b HCV subgenomic replicon RNA, with 20 μM each of HA1077 and Y27632 reduced the HCV RNA level by 55% and 30%, respectively. A combination of the inhibitors with 100 IU/mL interferon α (IFN-α) significantly potentiated the anti-HCV drug activities resulting in approximately a 2-log10 viral RNA reduction. We also found that IFN-α does not activate PRK2 as well as its upstream kinase PDK1 in HCV-replicating cells. Furthermore, treatment of HCV-infected cells with 20 μM each of HA1077 and Y27632 reduced the levels of intracellular viral RNA by 70% and 92%, respectively. Taken together, the results identify PRK2 inhibitors as potential antiviral drugs that act by suppressing HCV replication via inhibition of viral RNA polymerase phosphorylation.

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