Hydroxychloroquine blocks SARS-CoV-2 entry into the endocytic pathway in mammalian cell culture
Hydroxychloroquine (HCQ), a drug used to treat lupus and malaria, was proposed as a treatment for SARS-coronavirus-2 (SARS-CoV-2) infection, albeit with controversy. In vitro, HCQ effectively inhibits viral entry, but its use in the clinic has been hampered by conflicting results. A better understanding of HCQ’s mechanism of actions in vitro is needed. Recently, anesthetics were shown to disrupt ordered clusters of monosialotetrahexosylganglioside1 (GM1) lipid. These same lipid clusters recruit the SARS-CoV-2 surface receptor angiotensin converting enzyme 2 (ACE2) to endocytic lipids, away from phosphatidylinositol 4,5 bisphosphate (PIP2) clusters. Here we employed super-resolution imaging of cultured mammalian cells (VeroE6, A549, H1793, and HEK293T) to show HCQ directly perturbs clustering of ACE2 receptor with both endocytic lipids and PIP2 clusters. In elevated (high) cholesterol, HCQ moves ACE2 nanoscopic distances away from endocytic lipids. In cells with resting (low) cholesterol, ACE2 primarily associates with PIP2 clusters, and HCQ moves ACE2 away from PIP2 clusters—erythromycin has a similar effect. We conclude HCQ inhibits viral entry through two distinct mechanisms in high and low tissue cholesterol and does so prior to inhibiting cathepsin-L. HCQ clinical trials and animal studies will need to account for tissue cholesterol levels when evaluating dosing and efficacy.