Norovirus is the main cause of viral gastroenteritis worldwide. Although norovirus gastroenteritis is self-limiting in immunocompetent individuals, chronic infections with debilitating and life-threatening complications occur in immunocompromised patients. Nitazoxanide (NTZ) has been used empirically in the clinic and has demonstrated effectiveness against norovirus gastroenteritis. In this study, we aimed at uncovering the antiviral potential and mechanisms of action of NTZ and its active metabolite, tizoxanide (TIZ), using a human norovirus (HuNV) replicon. NTZ and TIZ, collectively referred to as thiazolides (TZD), potently inhibited replication of HuNV and a norovirus surrogate, feline calicivirus. Mechanistic studies revealed that TZD activated cellular antiviral response and stimulated the expression of a subset of interferon-stimulated genes (ISGs), particularly interferon regulatory factor 1 (IRF-1), not only in a Huh7 cell-based HuNV replicon, but also in naive Huh7 and Caco-2 cells and novel human intestinal organoids. Overexpression of exogenous IRF-1 inhibited HuNV replication, whereas knockdown of IRF-1 largely attenuated the antiviral activity of TZD, suggesting that IRF-1 mediated TZD inhibition of HuNV. By using a Janus kinase (JAK) inhibitor, CP-690550, and a STAT1 knockout approach, we found that TZD induced antiviral response independently of the classical JAK-signal transducers and activators of transcription (JAK-STAT) pathway. Furthermore, TZD and ribavirin synergized to inhibit HuNV replication and completely depleted the replicons from host cells after long-term treatment. In summary, our results demonstrated that TZD combated HuNV replication through activation of cellular antiviral response, in particular by inducing a prominent antiviral effector, IRF-1. NTZ mono-therapy or combination with ribavirin represent promising options for treating norovirus gastroenteritis, especially in immunocompromised patients.

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Keywords Cell culture model, IRF-1, Nitazoxanide, Noroviruses, Ribavirin, Synergy, Tizoxanide
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Journal Antimicrobial Agents and Chemotherapy
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Dang, W, Xu, L, Ma, B. (Buyun), Chen, S, Yin, Y, Chang, K.-O. (Kyeong-Ok), … Pan, Q. (2018). Nitazoxanide inhibits human norovirus replication and synergizes with ribavirin by activation of cellular antiviral response. Antimicrobial Agents and Chemotherapy, 62(11). doi:10.1128/AAC.00707-18