New research has shown that compounds that affect cellular energy status could also be used to treat hepatitis C virus (HCV) infections. Metformin, which is used to treat type II diabetes, and 5-amino-1-β-D-ribofuranosyl-1H-imidazole-4-carboxamide (AICAR), which has been shown to mimic the beneficial effects of exercise in mice, stimulate AMP-activated protein kinase (AMPK). AMPK is a key sensor of cellular energy status and regulates both lipid and glucose metabolism to maintain cellular energy balance and protect against metabolic stress. An increase in the AMP/ATP ratio initiates an AMPK-mediated switch from activities that consume ATP, such as lipid production, to activities that produce ATP, such as lipid and glucose oxidation.
Infection with viruses might be expected to activate AMPK because of the energy demands put on the cell by viral replication, but research led by scientists at the University of Leeds has shown instead that HCV switches off AMPK so that the cell continues to produce the lipids needed to provide new viral particles with a protective outer coat. When the team treated HCV-infected cells with metformin or AICAR, AMPK activity was restored and viral replication was inhibited.
The team plan to carry out a small scale clinical trial to investigate the effects of AMPK activators in HCV infection and hope that such drugs may provide much-needed new treatments for HCV.
The study is published in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Science.