Plant Compound More Effective Against HIV Than Current Antiretrovirals

Patentiflorin A better inhibited viral replication than azidothymidine, which could lead to an HIV cure.

Findings from a new study published by the Journal of Natural Compounds suggest that a plant commonly used in Southeast Asia to treat arthritis may be more potent against HIV than azidothymidine (AZT), an antiretroviral drug.

Current antiretrovirals control HIV replication and prevent disease progression, but cannot cure the infection. Researchers have continued searching for novel approaches to treating HIV in hopes of discovering a cure.

The investigators screened more than 4500 plant compounds and found that the chemical patentiflorin A—derived from the willow-leaved Justica plant—was effective against HIV.

This latest finding is the result of a multi-institution research collaboration that looks for natural products that could be used medicinally, while also advocating for sustainable use of the resources in lower-income countries.

In the study, the team of researchers analyzed the willow-leaved Justica extract, in addition to thousands of others, in an attempt to discover novel drugs against HIV, tuberculosis, malaria, and cancer.

The authors specifically focused on patentiflorin A due to its ability to inhibit the reverse transcriptase enzyme, which is harnessed by HIV to incorporate its genetic code into a cell’s DNA, according to the study.

AZT, initially launched in 1987, was the first drug developed to treat HIV and remains an important treatment today. This antiretroviral drug also inhibits the reverse transcriptase enzyme.

When administered to human cells infected with HIV, patentiflorin A was observed to have a more significant effect on the enzyme compared with AZT, according to the study.

“Patentiflorin A was able to inhibit the action of reverse transcriptase much more effectively than AZT, and was able to do this both in the earliest stages of HIV infection when the virus enters macrophage cells, and alter infection when it is present in T cells of the immune system,” said researcher Lijun Rong, PhD.

The authors also discovered that the chemical was able to attack drug-resistant strains of HIV. This finding makes patentiflorin A a very promising candidate to develop into a novel HIV drug, according to the study.

“Patentiflorin A represents a novel anti-HIV agent that can be added to the current anti-HIV drug cocktail regimens to increase suppression of the virus and prevention of AIDS,” Dr Rong said.

Additionally, the researchers were able to synthesize the chemical, which means that they do not have to rely on the willow-leaved Justica plant for the drug.

“If we can make the drug in the lab, we don’t need to establish farms to grow and harvest the plant, which requires significant financial investment, not to mention it has an environmental impact,” Dr Rong concluded.