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01.12.2017 | Research | Ausgabe 1/2017 Open Access

Virology Journal 1/2017

Respiratory syncytial virus (RSV) entry is inhibited by serine protease inhibitor AEBSF when present during an early stage of infection

Virology Journal > Ausgabe 1/2017
Winke Van der Gucht, Annelies Leemans, Marjorie De Schryver, Annick Heykers, Guy Caljon, Louis Maes, Paul Cos, Peter L. Delputte



Host proteases have been shown to play important roles in many viral activities such as entry, uncoating, viral protein production and disease induction. Therefore, these cellular proteases are putative targets for the development of antivirals that inhibit their activity. Host proteases have been described to play essential roles in Ebola, HCV, HIV and influenza, such that specific protease inhibitors are able to reduce infection. RSV utilizes a host protease in its replication cycle but its potential as antiviral target is unknown. Therefore, we evaluated the effect of protease inhibitors on RSV infection.


To measure the sensitivity of RSV infection to protease inhibitors, cells were infected with RSV and incubated for 18 h in the presence or absence of the inhibitors. Cells were fixed, stained and studied using fluorescence microscopy.


Several protease inhibitors, representing different classes of proteases (AEBSF, Pepstatin A, E-64, TPCK, PMSF and aprotinin), were tested for inhibitory effects on an RSV A2 infection of HEp-2 cells. Different treatment durations, ranging from 1 h prior to inoculation and continuing for 18 h during the assay, were evaluated. Of all the inhibitors tested, AEBSF and TPCK significantly decreased RSV infection. To ascertain that the observed effect of AEBSF was not a specific feature related to HEp-2 cells, A549 and BEAS-2B cells were also used. Similar to HEp-2, an almost complete block in the number of RSV infected cells after 18 h of incubation was observed and the effect was dose-dependent. To gain insight into the mechanism of this inhibition, AEBSF treatment was applied during different phases of an infection cycle (pre-, peri- and post-inoculation treatment). The results from these experiments indicate that AEBSF is mainly active during the early entry phase of RSV. The inhibitory effect was also observed with other RSV isolates A1998/3–2 and A2000/3–4, suggesting that this is a general feature of RSV.


RSV infection can be inhibited by broad serine protease inhibitors, AEBSF and TPCK. We confirmed that AEBSF inhibition is independent of the cell line used or RSV strain. The time point at which treatment with the inhibitor was most potent, was found to coincide with the expected moment of entry of the virion with the host cell.
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