Aim: Traditional herbal medicines have been used for several thousand years in China and other Asian countries. In this study we screened herbal drugs and their purified compounds, using the Feo replicon system, to determine their effects on in vitro HCV replication. Methods: We screened herbal drugs and their purified extracts for the activities to suppress hepatitis C virus (HCV) replication using an HCV replicon system that expressed chimeric firefly luciferase reporter and neomycin phosphotransferase (Feo) genes. We tested extracts and 13 purified compounds from the following herbs: Glycyrrhizae radix; Rehmanniae radix; Paeoniae radix; Artemisiae capillari spica; and Rhei rhizoma. Results: The HCV replication was significantly and dose-dependently suppressed by two purified compounds, isoliquiritigenin and glycycoumarin, which were from Glycyrrhizae radix. Dose-effect analyses showed that 50% effective concentrations were 6.2 ± 1.0 μg/mL and 15.5 ± 0.8 μg/mL for isoliquiritigenin and glycycoumarin, respectively. The MTS assay did not show any effect on cell growth and viability at these effective concentrations, indicating that the effects of the two compounds were specific to HCV replication. These two compounds did not affect the HCV IRES-dependent translation nor did they show synergistic action with interferon-alpha. Conclusion: Two purified herbal extracts, isoliquiritigenin and glycycoumarin, specifically suppressed in vitro HCV replication. Further elucidation of their mechanisms of action and evaluation of in vivo effects and safety might constitute a new anti-HCV therapeutics.
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