Human respiratory syncytial virus (RSV) causes serious infection of the lower respiratory tract in children and an effective antiviral therapy against the viral pathogen remains unavailable. We previously demonstrated that the oriental medicinal plant, Cimicifuga foetida L. (C. foetida), possessed inhibitory activity against RSV. Since cimicifugin is a major constituent of C. foetida, we sought to examine in this study its anti-RSV effect on both the human upper (HEp-2) and lower (A549) respiratory tract cell lines. Results revealed that cimicifugin dose-dependently inhibited RSV-induced plaque formation in both HEp-2 and A549 cells (p < 0.0001), with a superior effect in the latter cell type (p < 0.0001). The antiviral activity of cimicifugin was time-dependent (p < 0.0001) and was most effective when cells were treated with the compound before viral inoculation. Additional experiments demonstrated that cimicifugin could inhibit viral attachment (p < 0.0001) and viral internalization (p < 0.0001). Furthermore, the drug could potentiate heparin's effect against attachment of RSV, particularly in A549 cells. Enzyme-linked immunosorbent assay (ELISA) analysis of antiviral cytokines induction revealed that cimicifugin could also stimulate epithelial cells to secrete IFN-β to counteract viral infection. Taken together, these results indicate that cimicifugin is an efficient antiviral agent against RSV infection. We suggest that cimicifugin might be useful for the management of RSV pathogenesis.
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