Investigate the possible effect of chloroquine/hydroxychloroquine against SARS-CoV-2 since this molecule was previously described as a potent inhibitor of most coronaviruses, including SARS-CoV-1. Preliminary trials of chloroquine repurposing in the treatment of COVID-19 in China have been encouraging, leading to several new trials. Here we discuss the possible mechanisms of chloroquine interference with the SARS-CoV-2 replication cycle.
Chloroquine has been shown to be capable of inhibiting the in vitro replication of several coronaviruses. Recent publications support the hypothesis that chloroquine can improve the clinical outcome of patients infected by SARS-CoV-2. The multiple molecular mechanisms by which chloroquine can achieve such results remain to be further explored. Since SARS-CoV-2 was found a few days ago to utilise the same cell surface receptor ACE2 (expressed in lung, heart, kidney and intestine) as SARS-CoV-1 [85,86] (Table 1), it may be hypothesised that chloroquine also interferes with ACE2 receptor glycosylation thus preventing SARS-CoV-2 binding to target cells. Wang and Cheng reported that SARS-CoV and MERS-CoV upregulate the expression of ACE2 in lung tissue, a process that could accelerate their replication and spread . Although the binding of SARS-CoV to sialic acids has not been reported so far (it is expected that Betacoronavirus adaptation to humans involves progressive loss of hemagglutinin-esterase lectin activity), if SARS-CoV-2 like other coronaviruses targets sialic acids on some cell subtypes, this interaction will be affected by chloroquine treatment [87,88]. Today, preliminary data indicate that chloroquine interferes with SARS-CoV-2 attempts to acidify the lysosomes and presumably inhibits cathepsins, which require a low pH for optimal cleavage of SARS-CoV-2 spike protein , a prerequisite to the formation of the autophagosome . Obviously, it can be hypothesised that SARS-CoV-2 molecular crosstalk with its target cell can be altered by chloroquine through inhibition of kinases such as MAPK. Chloroquine could also interfere with proteolytic processing of the M protein and alter virion assembly and budding (Fig. 1). Finally, in COVID-19 disease this drug could act indirectly through reducing the production of pro-inflammatory cytokines and/or by activating anti-SARS-CoV-2 CD8+ T-cells.
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