Although the alphavirus Venezuelan equine encephalitis virus (VEEV) has been the cause of multiple outbreaks resulting in extensive human and equine mortality and morbidity, there are currently no anti-VEEV therapeutics available. VEEV pathogenicity is largely dependent on targeting of the viral capsid protein (CP) to the host cell nucleus through the nuclear transporting importin (Imp) α/β1 heterodimer. Here we perform a high-throughput screen, combined with nested counterscreens to identify small molecules able to inhibit the Impα/β1:CP interaction for the first time. Several compounds were able to significantly reduce viral replication in infected cells. Compound G281-1564 in particular could inhibit VEEV replication at low μM concentration, while showing minimal toxicity, with steady state and dynamic quantitative microscopic measurements confirming its ability to inhibit CP nuclear import. This study establishes the principle that inhibitors of CP nucleocytoplasmic trafficking can have potent antiviral activity against VEEV, and represents a platform for future development of safe anti-VEEV compounds with high efficacy and specificity.
- High-throughput screen
- Quantitative microscopy