Digitoxin suppresses human cytomegalovirus replication via Na+, K+/ATPase α1 subunit-dependent AMP-activated protein kinase and autophagy activation

Rupkatha Mukhopadhyay, Rajkumar Venkatadri, Jenny Katsnelson, Ravit Arav-Boger

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

11 Scopus citations


Host-directed therapeutics for human cytomegalovirus (HCMV) requires elucidation of cellular mechanisms that inhibit HCMV. We report a novel pathway used by cardiac glycosides to inhibit HCMV replication: induction of AMP-activated protein kinase (AMPK) activity and autophagy flux through the Na+,K+/ATPase α1 subunit. Our data illustrate an intricate balance between the autophagy regulators AMPK, mammalian target of rapamycin (mTOR), and ULK1 during infection and treatment with the cardiac glycoside digitoxin. Both infection and digitoxin induced AMPK phosphorylation, but ULK1 was differentially phosphorylated at unique sites leading to opposing effects on autophagy. Suppression of autophagy during infection occurred via ULK1 phosphorylation at Ser757 by enhanced mTOR activity. Digitoxin continuously phosphorylated AMPK, leading to ULK1 phosphorylation at Ser317, and suppressed mTOR, resulting in increased autophagy flux and HCMV inhibition. In ATG5-deficient human fibroblasts, digitoxin did not inhibit HCMV, supporting autophagy induction as a mechanism for virus inhibition. Drug combination studies with digitoxin and 5-aminoimidazole-4-carboxamide ribonucleotide (AICAR) further confirmed the role of autophagy activation in HCMV inhibition. Individually, each compound phosphorylated AMPK, but their combination reduced autophagy rather than inducing it and was antagonistic against HCMV, resulting in virus replication. The initial ULK1 activation by digitoxin was counteracted by AICAR, which prevented the downstream interaction of Beclin1 and phosphatidylinositol 3-kinase class III (PI3K-CIII), further supporting digitoxin-mediated HCMV inhibition through autophagy. Finally, the α1 subunit was required for autophagy induction, since in α1-deficient cells neither AMPK nor autophagy was activated and HCMV was not inhibited by digitoxin. In summary, induction of a novel pathway (α1-AMPK-ULK1) induces autophagy as a host-directed strategy for HCMV inhibition.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Article numbere01861-17
JournalJournal of virology
Issue number6
StatePublished - Mar 1 2018


  • AMPK
  • Autophagy
  • Cardiac glycosides
  • Cytomegalovirus
  • ULK1

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Microbiology
  • Immunology
  • Insect Science
  • Virology


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