It became an iconic drug that entered pop cultural folklore, but fluoxetine, marketed as Prozac, has put a smile on the faces of researchers for a purpose other than the treatment of depression. Studies carried out at UCLA have found that fluoxetine is a promising antiviral agent, particularly for enteroviruses that can be a cause of death in several parts of the world.
Using molecular screening, the multidisciplinary team of researchers found that fluoxetine worked as a potent inhibitor of coxsackievirus, one of the enteroviruses that include polio, encephalitis, and echovirus found in the gastro intestinal tract. Human enteroviruses are part of a genus comprising more than 100 distinct RNA viruses, which create a window for opportunistic infections and diseases. There are no antiviral drugs for enterovirus infections.
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The researchers noticed fluoxetine and norfluoxetine (a key metabolite of fluoxetine) markedly reduced the production of viral RNA and protein. This discovery gave them hope for treating a difficult type of virus with a tried-and-tested substance, and said their findings warrant additional study of fluoxetine as an antiviral agent for enterovirus infections.
The scientists said the follow-up work will focus on the discovery of unconventional targets for fluoxetine and how they intersect with the known targets of this drug class. They said understanding the mechanisms used by fluoxetine and norfloxetine against coxsackieviruses will add to the understanding of enterovirus replication, and lead to an assessment of their potential clinical use to treat enterovirus infections.
This is not the first time a well-known drug has been found to have different applications from the ones it’s known for. Last year scientists found that MDMA, the major component of ecstasy, has cancer-killing properties.
The fluoxetine study appeared in July in the journal of Antimicrobial Agents and Chemotherapy.